Many current and former Texas A&M students refer to Muster and Silver Taps ceremonies as their favorite traditions. Both ceremonies are revered as sacred, honoring Aggies who have died. The traditions have taken on different forms and names during A&M's history, but their core meaning has remained the same: As long as there are two Aggies, those who have died will always be present in spirit.
Pride in state
The 14th Texas Legislature declared San Jacinto Day a state holiday in 1874, in observance of April 21, 1836, when the last battle of the Texas Revolution was fought and Texas gained its independence from Mexico.
According to The Centennial History of Texas A&M University, 1876-1976 by Henry Dethloff, students would use April 21 as a social day to break up the monotony. The cadets would make a Corps Trip to participate in battle re-enactments in San Jacinto and to parades in Houston during the 1890s, according to We Are the Aggies by John A. Adams Jr.
San Jacinto Field Day included sporting competitions, and was held annually from April 1899 until 1903. The Eagle called that "first annual field day … a marked success … and an epoch in the history of the athletics of the college" in its April 27 issue. Competitions included races, shot-put contests, hammer throwing and a tennis tournament. Prizes, sponsored by Bryan residents and businesses, included knives, "Sul Ross cigars" (both contraband on the campus) and silk shirts.
After the turn of the century, students would march to the Brazos River and have a picnic, according to Softly Call the Muster by Adams. This was the beginning of what is now the March to the Brazos, the Corps' annual fundraising event for the March of Dimes.
Gen. Sam Houston, Texas hero and former governor, died in 1863. Houston's youngest daughter, Antoinette "Nettie" Power Houston Bringhurst, was active in the Daughters of the Republic of Texas and was married to a member of the Texas A&M faculty. "She undoubtedly played an enthusiastic role [in the campus events]," according to a Cushing Memorial Library exhibit, Intended for All. Houston's youngest son, Temple, was a student at A&M in the 1878-1879 academic year and would eventually become an accomplished trial lawyer and state senator.
Roll Call for the Absent by John Ashton, class of 1906
… In many lands and climes this April day / Proud sons of Texas A&M unite. / Our loyalty to country, school, we pray, / and seal our pact with bond of common might ...
The first alumni association of A&M was formed in June 1880, as a result of growing enrollment and graduates of either the two- or four-year programs. In 1883, the Association of Ex-Cadets read a roll call. The policy printed in the meeting's program was: "In reunion we meet and live over again our College days, the victories and defeats won and lost upon drill ground and in classroom. Let every Alumnus answer at roll call."
The idea of answering for "fallen comrades" began at this first meeting. A roll call — a list of Aggies who died since the last Muster — is read on April 21. Friends and family answer "here" when a name is called, because the Aggie who died is still present in spirit.
In Memoriam by Lt. Col. David Harrigan, class of 1968
… We stood there all together / and wiped away the tears / When our names were called out softly / and answered with a "Here!" /... and so we've joined together / with our brothers of the past / To make our final resting place at / Aggieland our last …
A&M president Lawrence Sullivan Ross died Jan. 3, 1898. He was buried in Waco, his hometown, the next day. The first Silver Taps was held in his honor.
Ever since, the somber ceremony has taken place to honor an Aggie who was enrolled at A&M at the time of their death. Flags flying at half-staff the day of a Silver Taps ceremony was added in the 1920s, according to Division of Student Affairs.
Silver Taps was initially observed as soon as possible after the Aggie's death. Since the early 1980s, the ceremony takes place the first Tuesday of the month during the fall and spring semesters if a current student has died since the last service. The change in tradition was made because of increased enrollment, according to a September 1980 Eagle article.
An announcement is posted at the flagpole in the Academic Plaza. The ceremony takes place in front of the Academic Building by Ross' statue. All the lights are turned off and the sound of bells chime from the Albritton Tower at 10:15 p.m. The Ross Volunteers fire a three seven-gun volley.
The bugle corps plays a rendition of Silver Taps by Col. Richard Dunn, band director from 1929 to 1944, three times from the top of the Academic Building. The buglers play it once toward the north, west and south, never to the east, because the sun will never rise on the Aggie again, according to a December 1999 Eagle article. Participants are silent for the duration and leave the plaza the same way. The ceremony has inspired poems describing the rites and what they represent.
Silver Taps by Mable Clare Thomas
… Clustered in hundreds round the Old Main Building, / They come to bid a last "Farewell" / To a fellow Aggie, whose footsteps / Will never tread familiar campus paths again…
Class reunions and gatherings
As the campus grew and more students graduated, April 21 also became the day for class reunions and the annual banquet for the Association of Former Students. Aggies continued to celebrate San Jacinto Day as the rest of Texas. The 1924 alumni magazine Texas Aggie called for former students to celebrate San Jacinto Day with what remains the core of today's Muster: "In every town where there are as many as two Aggies, let us have a meeting April 21."
That 1924 ceremony was dedicated to those who fought during World War I and the 55 Aggies who died. Local Aggie clubs would continue to celebrate the time they spent at A&M and San Jacinto Day during the rest of the 1920s and '30s, according to Softly Call the Muster.
Roll Call for the Absent by John Ashton, class of 1906
… We live again those happy days of yore / on campus, field, in classroom, dorm, at drill / Fond memory brings a sigh — but nothing more; / Now we are men and life's a greater thrill …
In 1940, the U.S. Army promoted Commandant Col. George F. Moore, class of 1908, to brigadier general. He left College Station to command the Harbor Defenses of Manila and Subic Bays in the Philippines.
The Japanese attacked Pearl Harbor Dec. 7, 1941, and the United States officially entered World War II. Japan turned its attention to the Philippines. While under siege, Moore and 24 other Aggies on the island of Corregidor reportedly held a Roll Call and paused as long as they could in the Malinta Tunnel in observance of San Jacinto Day on April 21, 1942.
The United Press wired the story to the United States that the 25 Aggies were alive and still defending the nation's stake in the Pacific, according to Softly Call the Muster. Two weeks later, America surrendered the Philippines to Japan. Corregidor became known, particularly in Texas, as the "Alamo of the Philippines," in drawing similarities with the 1836 siege during the Texas Revolution.
Aggies "sang songs … and gave evidence that their fighting spirit was up to the traditions of Aggieland," according to The Eagle on April 22, 1942. The description was printed in newspapers all across the country. The 1942 Roll Call has become a Muster legend.
Roll Call for the Absent by John Ashton, class of 1906
… On Corregidor 71 years ago today / A band of gallant Aggies, led by Moore, / Held simple rites which led to us doth all to say: The spirit shall prevail through cannon roar …
E.E. McQuillen, class of 1920 and executive secretary of the Association of Former Students from 1927 to 1947, is credited as being the father of the Aggie Muster. The Roll Call in Corregidor inspired McQuillen to contact Aggies all over the world. He sent packets to A&M clubs and military stations, including The Heroes' Roll Call poem by Ashton, the 1942 Corregidor Roll Call and a detailed agenda. The Heroes' Roll Call is the initial title for Roll Call for the Absent, which was modified throughout the 1940s to how it is recited today.
The idea was for Aggies to be united on April 21 no matter where they were.
A 1943 nationally broadcast radio program from Washington, D.C., included an address by A&M president T.O. Walton and music from the movie We've Never Been Licked, filmed on the A&M campus, according to Adams' book. After the Roll Call, the closing statements were:
"These men we mark as 'present' in our hearts! Their courage, their sacrifices, their meeting on the same day last year in unbowed defiance of our enemy, symbolizes to us the finest traditions of our College and its sons! Through them as a glowing symbol we pay silent tribute to all our comrades absent from 'Roll Call' tonight in the defense of their country!"
McQuillen estimated more than 10,000 Aggies tuned in for the program. The 1943 Muster was so well received another was planned and packets were sent out again in 1944. Students coordinated the 1944 Muster in Guion Hall with music by the Aggie Band and Singing Cadets. Guion was an assembly hall that stood where Rudder Tower is now.
By 1946, the war was over and Aggies were making their way home. Gen. Dwight D. Eisenhower, commander of the Allied Forces in Europe, was the keynote speaker at the 1946 Muster in Kyle Field. The event honored approximately 900 Aggies who died during WWII, 29 Aggies who served as generals and seven recipients of the Congressional Medal of Honor.
The Memorial Student Center was dedicated at the 1951 Muster to Aggies killed in all past, present and future wars. After closing in 2009 for renovations, the MSC was reopened before the 2012 Aggie Muster ceremony.
Throughout the 1950s and '60s, Muster was held on the front lawn of the MSC or in front of the System Administration Building, then moved to the G. Rollie White Coliseum by 1971. The 1998 Muster was the first major event held in Reed Arena. Aggie Muster has been held there ever since.
Aggie Muster ceremonies are held across the globe. "In peace and war the ceremonies continue," Adams wrote in Softly Call the Muster, "from war-torn Germany to Korea to Vietnam and to the sands and waters of the Middle East during Operation Desert Storm; if only for a moment, Aggies have Mustered."
In Washington, D.C., Aggies place wreaths on the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier in Arlington National Cemetery. Family members of Aggies who have died are invited to attend.
Former students can register a host location at aggienetwork.com/muster.
The campus Muster ceremony is the largest of these gatherings, attracting approximately 12,000 Aggies to Reed Arena. A student committee organizes the day, which includes a barbecue. The lighting of candles began in the mid-1960s by Jack G. Fritts, Class of 1953, at an Austin Muster ceremony. It became part of the campus version in the early 1980s, according to Adams' book.
Family members or friends of Aggies who died since the last ceremony answer "Here" when the Roll Call is conducted. The Ross Volunteers fire a 21-gun salute and a portion of the Aggie Band bugle corps plays the special rendition of Silver Taps.
Aggie Muster Day by Margaret Rudder, wife of former A&M president J. Earl Rudder
… All heads are bowed in silent pledge never to forget. / While rifles fire their last salute echoes answer yet. / To their mem'ry we'll be true; we will take their place. / One for all and all for one ever in Thy grace. / We'll meet again another day, reunion while we pray / To ask Thy blessing on each one on this Muster day, / Aggie Muster Day.
— Compiled by Claire Heathman