Texas Aggies Go to War Exhibit in Bastogne

Staff Writer, Sue Owen, Texas Aggie Magazine

Texas Aggies Go to War Exhibit Poster sm“This is a great opportunity to honor those who paved the way for many of us to be where we are today.  The Belgians have shared stories of how their lives were forever changed by the support of the Americans during the Battle of the Bulge and many of those leading the Americans were Texas Aggies.  I am humbled and honored to be able to support this tribute.” Chancellor John Sharp 

The 5,000 square foot exhibit will showcase the past and present Aggie experience.  It will honor the lives of Texas Aggies who fought in and around the Battle of the Bulge, such as Lt. Col. James Earl Rudder ’32, Capt. Joe E. Routt ’37, Maj. James F. Hollingsworth ’40, Lt. Turney W. Leonard ’42, and Lt. William M. Pena ’42 before, during, and after the war.  Brett Cornwell ’91, vice chancellor for technology commercialization, says the five men chosen “will be the ‘everyman’ … ciphers for every Aggie, every U.S. serviceman that fought in the war.”

Toward the end of the exhibit there will be a wall of honor highlighting all the fallen Aggies during World War II.  The last room will highlight the current relationships between Texas A&M and the Walloon region of Belgium and how that relationship has strengthened through the years.

The “Texas Aggies Go to War” exhibition opens December 12, 2014 in the Van Geluwe building in downtown Bastogne, Belgium.  It will mark the 70th anniversary of the Battle of the Bulge, when the Germans made a last push to extend their front line toward the English Channel and were forced back by Americans dug into deep snow inside the Ardennes Forest.

It is not ancient history to the residents of Bastogne, nor do they intend to let it become so to their descendants. Project historian John A. Adams, Jr. ’73 says, “Their town is really a living museum to their being saved!’ And exhibition designer Christophe Gaeta says teaching young visitors is paramount.

“The main objective of the exhibition is to tell the younger generation that a soldier in a black-and-white picture is not just a soldier,” Gaeta says. “He had a life before, he had a girlfriend, a father, he had family. You could have been in the same situation, 70 years ago.”

For that reason, he says, the displays will trace the men from A&M student life in the 1930s to the post-war successes and struggles of those who made it home.

But how did a foreign museum, even one in Bastogne, come to celebrate le courage des jeunes Aggies (the courage of young Aggies)? Connections, both economic and personal, between A&M and Belgium are part of the answer.

And Texas A&M University System Chancellor John Sharp ’72 is one key. “The chancellor was the first person to step forward with financial support from the U.S. side for this museum project,” says Cornwell. “Without his initial support and that support deriving from his understanding of our relationship with Belgium and his understanding of our relationship with our Belgian partners, this project wouldn’t have happened.”

Cornwell’s Technology Commercialization office, which licenses and protects the results of system schools’ research, “has been working very closely with partners in Belgium for eight, nine years now,” he says in a video about the exhibition. 

The Texas A&M System Technology Commercialization connection with southern Belgium’s Walloon Region began when government official Philippe LaChapelle took the advice of an old graduate school mentor –Dr. Evan Anderson, a Texas A&M professor – to contact A&M about economic development possibilities. Since then, multimillion-dollar agreements have been forged, companies have spun off and Belgian company branch offices have opened in Bryan and College Station.

Walloon-based GlaxoSmithKline Vaccines will make the medicines at the A&M/GSK $91 million influenza-vaccine manufacturing facility in Bryan-College Station that Gov. Rick Perry ’72 announced last year. Underlying the deals are shared values that Belgian partners have come to associate with Aggies, says Technology Commercialization program manager Linda Ravey: “It’s the trust. It’s the ethics. It’s the integrity that people know, when they get to know us, that’s who we are. Philippe LaChapelle has experienced that through his relationship with us. When GSK was approached by Texas A&M they turned to Philippe and said, ‘Who are these people?’ he said, ‘You do want to do business with them.”

These ongoing links, Cornwell says, are “why the people in Belgium and the folks putting this together are much

more interested in telling the story of Texas A&M’s support for the liberation of Belgium than they are of, for instance, West Point.”

If you have interest in learning more about the exhibit, attending the grand opening or donating to this exhibit, please visit the website.  http://texasaggiesgotowarexhibit.tamus.edu

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