You know what an Aggie is? That name has been in the news recently, thanks to presidential candidate, Gov. Rick Perry, who went to Texas A&M. That’s the school where the military unit wore high boots, and probably still do, that were fashionable in George Washington’s day. It is also the school that adopted the theme from the film “Patton” as a sort of football fight song.
Now, in Texas, everybody knows what the term “Aggie” means, even though, like God, it is a difficult thing for anyone, poet or farmer, to wrap words around. It is a matter of pride, like the Fighting Irish, and you know it when you see it. Texans just know, and the other people who know, but are equally incapable of defining, are military people who have met Aggies. We did, at Fort Sill, Okla., and besides Aggies we met guys from a dozen other schools, varying in fame and style from Princeton to RPI to Iowa State. But this is not about Aggies. Let’s change speed.
Then came the rain, at three o’clock in the morning, the time that Scott Fitzgerald, a Princeton man, called the dark night of the soul, and military memories came back, first, like the rain, a gentle patter on the roof, and then a more insistent downpour of names and places, such as Benning and Meade and Lee and Campbell and Indiantown Gap. And then, in a reverse chronology, Fort Sill, where the Aggies, and much more, came to mind in the soothing confusion of a summer storm.
Anybody in the army, or any service, has met people from military schools. They put out a lot of officers. You were always meeting Aggies or VMI people. In general, we did not admire them. They took learning to shoot guns far too seriously. They should have been at Little Round Top. They were the people who got up at 4 a.m. to get ready for a 7 a.m. inspection, clanking around in the bathroom and bounding down hallways, waking up the rest of us slobs in the process. But there were always exceptions, like Harry. He was from Ennis, Texas. He was an Aggie, and from a town that was probably named after Ennis, in Ireland. Towns get named after each other, like Philadelphia, where the Iggles play, named after a town in Mississippi.
Harry was a casual guy, friendly with a pleasing drawl, who did not take himself or the army too seriously. And over the years the name Texas A&M, and the theme from "Patton," brings his memory to mind. We may have stayed in touch briefly, but like most such long distance friendships, they become memories. We all know that feeling. I wonder whatever happened to…? Any man who hasn’t tried to look up an old high school love ain’t really trying. Women are not much better.
Harry’s name comes up today as the first among many, when you realized, stupid as it sounds, that a guy from Texas is little different from a dude from Philadelphia. The military neutralizes the arrogance of neighborhoods, and the examples of that truth line up like soldiers on parade. Tom from Montgomery, an Auburn man, who grew up on the same street as Zelda Fitzgerald (his parents knew her); W.C. from North Carolina State, who said he’d resign his commission before he would get somebody else’s dumb ass killed; Hugo from Iowa State, who dated a pretty girl from Dallas; Pete from Iron Mountain, Mich., a Michigan State product. They were from all over the country, dispelling the notion that big city guys from the northeast were in some way culturally superior. The southern and Midwestern boys took people as they came. It seemed that the closer you were to the center of our country, the more open minded you were.
But then there were Princeton guys, and that was another shattered misconception. You expected them to be rich and elite. Some were rich, but as a group, they were just like the rest of us. There was Bert from a western Pennsylvania town that his family allegedly owned, but you would never know it from his modest, almost shy demeanor. And Birch, with a Philadelphia name that was known to all from that area. And Tom, forget where he came from, but we had great fun writing a satirical skit for the party ending our training.
And there was another Tom, from Gulfport, Miss., who married a beautiful girl from Alabama. I am not sure about his school, but it was probably Alabama. Her family was from Tuscaloosa. One night at a party at the O Club, a black officer (actually he was beige, like our President) and his wife sat down at a table. A guy from Auburn, one of the very few arrogant men we met from the south, and his wife promptly got up and moved to another table. Tom and his wife saw that, and quickly rose and took the empty seats beside the black couple. One way or the other, and it was the army reserve that got us in the magazine business, our military experience lasted 12 years, but that night at Fort Sill was the classiest move we saw.
We don’t know what happened to those men, and the few wifes we met, but we were, in a strange sense, a band of brothers, distant but the same. Which has nothing to do with Aggies. But maybe, on a rainy night, it does.