Aggie Bonfire - 10 Years Later

Today marks the 10th anniversary of the collapse of the bonfire on the Texas A&M campus that killed twelve students and injured many others. The university marked this anniversary with a week-long observance, which culminated in a candlelight vigil and memorial service beginning at 2:42 this morning, the precise time of the collapse. Photos from that vigil plus other recollections of the tragedy are found on this Facebook event page.

Statewide, media have provided coverage of the anniversary. Perhaps the most widely seen coverage will be the story in the current edition of Texas Monthly Magazine. I haven't read the article, but by all accounts it's an accurate and even moving description of the disaster, as well as an unexpectedly sensitive treatment of the tradition and meaning for A&M students. (I say "unexpected" because Texas Monthly has a reputation for being biased toward A&M's arch-rival, the University of Texas.) The website also has an interesting video about the creation of the photo on the cover of the magazine, which features a computer-generated version of the bonfire. (Perceptive viewers will notice that a Mac was used for the 3D modeling.)

Locally, Jimmy Patterson has written an article for the Midland Reporter Telegram about the anniversary of the bonfire collapse. He's done his typically excellent job in reporting, and the only quibble I have with the article is one that probably isn't his fault anyway: if you're going to refer to the aforementioned University of Texas using the Aggie acronym, it's "tu" (lower case). I'll give him the benefit of the doubt and chalk that up to an editor's eye.

I worked on one bonfire during my five-year stint at A&M. As a freshman in the Corps of Cadets in 1970, about the only thing I remember is how long the four-hour work sessions were, and how short the four-hour rests seemed. I was perpetually sleep-deprived anyway (that being the typical state of a Corps fish), so the bonfire work is really just a hazy memory. It was also the hardest work I'd done in my life up to that point.

The fact that I never participated in another bonfire construction (I didn't return to the Corps after my freshman year) probably puts me in that shameful "two-percenter" category, but it's a fact of Aggie life that far more students didn't work on the bonfire than did. That doesn't lessen my respect for the tradition it represents.

However, I also agree with a number of commenters on the Texas Monthly article who point out that the bonfire is not Texas A&M, nor are the rich heritage and traditions of the university diminished significantly by its absence.

My wife and I visited the on-campus Bonfire Memorial a couple of summers ago, on a day so brutally hot and humid that it was all we could do to muster the energy to walk from the car to the Stonehenge-like setting where the twelve students who perished were honored. But we found the memorial to be so moving that we spent more than an hour reading the stories of those young people, and watching other visitors move respectfully along with us, no one speaking above a whisper. To me, that desire and ability to honor fellow Aggies is the most important tradition of them all, and as long as that doesn't change, the A&M heritage is secure.

6 Comments

I will also go down as a 2-percenter although I can live with that. I heard too many stories of the fraternity-like atmosphere surrounding bonfire (not by all but some and that's too many).
I don't think A&M would be responsible in bringing back a student built bonfire to campus (for one thing the insurance alone would make it impossible; a second thing heaven forbid something happen again who wants that on their conscience).
When I was a senior, centerpole collapsed and while the stack remained standing (slightly imploded), it maybe should have sent a warning to all that bonfire is not a perfect science.
There are a lot of great things about A&M, and the tradition and everything else will continue with or without bonfire. Bring it back if responsible people say it is the right thing to do, but it can never return like it did before the collapse.

My youngest enrolled at A&M in 2000 when the memory was fresh and raw. She was impressed by the homage paid to those who died, and by many of the other grand Traditions of A&M.

However, as an English major who ended up taking 3 upper level English courses her freshman year (AP credits and CLEP and all that) her advisor, in an uncharacteristically honest moment told her that A&M did not offer what she needed or wanted.

About that time, near the end of her freshman year she was also becoming frustrated with what she called the "little t" traditions. Those were probably somewhat similar to what a "frat atmosphere" might be.

Anyway, A&M gave her a great start for her subsequent education. She's proof that an English major can get and keep a high-paying job. And that's wonderful because she will be paying for my nursing home. (The older two have suggested I start a savings account, the inappreciative curs :-)

Gee, I'm almost embarrassed to tell you she went to law school!

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This page contains a single entry by Eric published on November 18, 2009 9:42 AM.

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