After almost 90 years, two flags created in 1929 to honor the more than 50 Aggies who lost their lives and the approximate 2,000 Texas A&M University students, faculty and staff who served in World War I are returning home to College Station from Austin. The service flags, which are smaller versions of the 1918 original, are changing hands in an official ceremony on Thursday, April 6, the centennial anniversary of America’s entry into the conflict, at 10 a.m. at the Texas State Library and Archives Commission in Austin.
Made of white wool muslin framed by a thick red border, the approximate 13-foot-by-25-foot original flag hung from the fourth-floor rotunda in the Academic Building at Texas A&M from 1918 to 1943, interrupted only by a stay at the stage area of Guion Hall. Finally blown down by the wind and too delicate for display, the flag was put away until James B. Jones, Texas A&M Class of ’71, found it while cleaning a math department closet in 1970. By way of The Association of Former Students, the flag ultimately ended up at the Cushing Memorial Library and Archives at Texas A&M where it remains. The massive flag features 50 gold fabric stars stitched to its center in honor of Aggies who lost their lives in the war, while the surrounding maroon stars represent those who served. The much smaller 1929 reproductions are made of white and red silk with gold and blue, rather than maroon, ink-stamped stars.
Men and women from more than four million American families served in WWI, and the number of Texas A&M students, staff and faculty who answered the call exceeded that of any other American university, according to the Texas State Library and Archives Commission. The Great War claimed the lives of 116,516 U.S. soldiers and wounded another 200,000, and the university helped to rehabilitate approximately 1,000 injured veterans between 1919 and 1925 under the supervision of the Federal Board of Vocational Education and with the assistance of the Veterans Bureau.
During the war, the College Station campus became a camp for training more than 4,000 U.S. Army personnel who served as machinists, blacksmiths, farriers, and radio, auto and aircraft mechanics. The Signal Corps School of Meteorology, the only one of its kind among allied nations during the war, also was hosted by Texas A&M. War efforts pertaining to food production, cotton marketing and food preservation were advanced around the state by the Texas Agricultural Extension Service, a part of the Texas A&M University System.
On May 7, 1929, the university presented the Speaker of the House, the Hon. W.S. Barron, with the pair of small service flags on a visit he made to the university. Later that month, a resolution recognizing the university’s many contributions to the war was read on the House floor and one of the flags was hung in the Texas House of Representatives where it remained for at least 45 years before entering the care of the state archives where the other was stored.
In 2013, the U.S. WWI Centennial Commission was formed by an Act of Congress, and Texas followed suit. Governor Greg Abbott charged the Texas Historical Commission with forming a similar committee in Texas, and representatives of the state archives suggested the flags be returned to Texas A&M in a ceremony coinciding with the WWI centennial celebration.
At the ceremony, State Library and Archives Director Mark Smith, State Representative John Raney and Senator Charles Schwertner are to deliver addresses, and accepting the flags on behalf of Texas A&M are Provost Karan Watson, Brigadier General Joe E. Ramirez, Dean of University Libraries David Carlson, and Cushing Memorial Library Director Francesca Marini, among others.
A photo album of the original flag can be found on the Texas A&M Libraries Flickr page.