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War Hymn is fine the way it is, the spirit is with the students

Published: Monday, March 21, 2005

Updated: Wednesday, July 25, 2012 22:07

For decades, people have complained about the Texas A&M fight song that we refer to as the Aggie War Hymn. These critics apparently discovered that the verse of the War Hymn sung at sporting events is not the only verse, but apparently the second verse in the hymn. Naturally, they begin preaching the necessity to sing what they believe is the first verse and was originally intended to be sung, but this opinion, though well intended, is uninformed and misguided.

In order to form an appropriate opinion, one must do the proper research, and the best place to research such a long-standing tradition is the Cushing Memorial Library and Archives. There you will find numerous articles and documents dating as far back as the late 1800s about everything from JV "Pinky" Wilson to the Aggie War Hymn. Using this almost inexhaustible resource, we can eliminate misconceptions and reveal the true intentions behind our time honored fight song.

The first and most common misconception is that the author of the War Hymn was the famed Pinky Downs, Class of 1906 and famed former yell leader who created the "Gig'em" hand sign. However, the actual songwriter was James Vernon "Pinky" Wilson, Class of 1920. According to the September 1980 issue of "The Texas Aggie," an alumni magazine, Wilson came to A&M in 1915, only to leave before graduating to enlist in the Marines and fight in World War I. Wilson returned to A&M after the war to re-enroll as a senior in the veterans' unit.

The other misconception - and this is the kicker - is that what is referred to as the first verse of the War Hymn wasn't actually written until 1928. According to a news article published in The Battalion in 1980, Wilson told John A. Adams Jr., an authority on A&M history, all about how he wrote the War Hymn on the back of a letter from home while standing guard on the Rhine River in 1918. The song is a combination of several Aggie yells from back then such as "Hullabaloo, Caneck! Caneck!" and "Saw Varsity's Horns Off." The song was originally sung slowly, as a ballad, by a quartet, and it had a different title: "Good-bye to Texas University." After returning to A&M, Wilson organized a quartet that sang many tunes. In exchange for passes to the movie theater they would sing during the intermission of the show. One evening, several of the Aggie yell leaders were in attendance and heard them sing "Good-bye to Texas University." They approached Wilson and asked him to jazz it up and let them present it to the student body. At a yell practice in the fall of 1920, they did just that and, though several songs were in contention for the official fight song, the "War Hymn" was adopted.

Years later, the yell leaders and some former students requested that Wilson write a new verse in order to get away from a rivalry-oriented fight song, but all attempts to promote the verse have failed. "Just as well, the spirit is with the student body - they'll sing what they want to," Wilson told Adams.

Wilson couldn't have put it better. The story behind the original verse of the War Hymn practically defines the spirit of A&M which ultimately defines the student body. Whether you're in the Aggie Band or you live in Walton Hall, you still sway to the same tune. That same tune that was ranked No. 1 in college fight songs by USA Today in 1997. It was the same tune that NASA Flight Director Terry Griffin, Class of 1956, used to wake astronauts in space in 1983 and 1995. That tune is the famed War Hymn that has survived almost a century, and whether we sing the old verse or the new one, JV "Pinky" Wilson, God rest his soul, would be pleased to know that his words and music still survive to this day.

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