Texas A&M University President Michael K. Young issued an official proclamation declaring Thursday, April 6, as “World War I Remembrance Day.” The declaration marks the centennial anniversary of America’s entry into the First World War and joins similar proclamations being made across the state of Texas and the United States, including those of Mayor Andrew Nelson of Bryan and Mayor Karl Mooney of College Station.
In the proclamation, Young encourages “all students, staff and faculty to remember and commemorate America’s entry into the Great War and the great sacrifices that awaited its citizens 100 years ago.”
Historically, World War I, also called the Great War, has not garnered the same level of interest and attention as World War II. Many Americans do not realize that some of the men who served as junior officers in the first conflict continued as senior officers in the second, providing expertise and leadership to the Greatest Generation, said John Blair, chairperson of the Brazos County World War I Centennial Committee.
Four million American families watched as their sons and daughters served in World War I, and more than 2,300 of those enlisted military personnel were Texas A&M students, staff and faculty — a number of service members not exceeded by 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 more than 50 of them were Aggies. Another 200,000 Americans were wounded, and Texas A&M helped to rehabilitate approximately 1,000 of them 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, Texas A&M provided significant support to the troops in numerous ways. 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 only Signal Corps School of Meteorology among allied nations also was hosted by Texas A&M, and 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.
In 2013, an Act of Congress established the U.S. WWI Centennial Commission, followed by Governor Greg Abbott’s charge for the Texas Historical Commission to create a similar delegation for the state. In light of the approaching anniversary and the initiatives already underway to commemorate the war by both state and federal governments, the 15-member Brazos County World War I Centennial Committee formed in January to recognize the sacrifices made locally and to raise awareness about Texas A&M’s contributions.
The Texas Historical Commission and the university approved a Texas Historical Marker for dedication on campus sometime next year to recognize Texas A&M’s important role in the war. Aggies who lost their lives are already honored on campus by both the West Gate Memorial, a monument located in front of the Corps Arches, and the tree-filled Living Memorial that surrounds O.R. Simpson Drill Field.
Delving into local history for the commemoration, committee members discovered five more veterans who lost their lives in WWI: John William Butts, Robert Rowland Florence, Joseph Zetuc Sawyer, Ira W. South and George W. Splawn. The committee continues to work on ways to honor these fallen WWI heroes and all Aggies who served in the Great War.