Eleven members of the Class of 1965 went to Vietnam and never came back. Their ultimate sacrifice will be honored with 11 empty seats at the 2015 Campus Muster ceremony Tuesday.
The Vietnam War was just one of the tumultuous events that the Class of 1965 lived through while at Texas A&M. Cold War tensions almost resulted in nuclear war with the Cuban Missile Crisis, construction began on the Berlin Wall and women enrolled at the Agricultural and Mechanical College of Texas for the first time.
Fifty years after living through a time of local and international change, the Class of 1965 will again walk campus as the 2015 Muster reunion class. Texas A&M has changed significantly since their brief tenure as students — Corps membership is no longer mandatory and over 25,000 women now study on campus. But their visit is a reminder of the remembrance and camaraderie that Muster ultimately stands for.
Their time on campus
The class started with 1,894 male students when the freshmen enrolled in what was at the time called the Agricultural and Mechanical College of Texas. All were a part of the Corps of Cadets, which was mandatory for all students until 1965.
Enrollment of the A&M College was just under 8,000, and tuition cost less than $50 per semester. Women would not enroll until 1963, and 1964 saw the enrollment of five black freshman students — the first to call AMC home.
One of the members of the Class of 1965 is Albert Clay, who studied accounting and was a member of the Ross Volunteers. He said while life was difficult in a predominantly Corps lifestyle, there were also some lighthearted moments. He said one of the ways freshmen got back at the upperclassmen who hazed them was through something called a BABO bomb, which consisted of a cherry bomb put inside a can of BABO, which is a kind of powdered cleanser. Unfortunately, the revenge was short lived for the fish.
“You live with these guys, so once you did that, you usually did it at night,” Clay said. “You’d run back and you’d jump back in your hole and you’d get back in your rack and all they had to do was come around and put their hand on your chest and if your heart was beating a hundred miles an hour they knew you were the guilty party, and then you’d have to pay the price.”
Clay said that while a lot has changed since his time at A&M, specifically with the Corps presence, change isn’t necessarily bad.
“The Corps has changed dramatically, but you know, the people that are here now are just as good as the corps folks, and that’s pretty hard for us to believe, but I think it’s true,” Clay said. “Old Army hasn’t gone to hell, there are still good folks here and everybody is doing their best to represent Texas A&M and they’re doing a real good job of it.”
The importance of Muster
Helping organize this year’s Muster is the Muster committee’s liaison to the reunion class Marikit Tomlinson, kinesiology junior. Tomlinson said working with the class has been a surprising experience.
“It’s very cool because they have such a passion for each other since their class isn’t as big as ours,” Tomlinson said. “And so they seem to know their fellow classmates on a very personal, individual level and they are full of stories of mischief, which is hilarious to me but also very honorable in terms of what they carry on post-graduation.”
Clay said he looks forward to meeting up with his fellow classmates.
“We’re getting here already,” Clay said. “Just me and the guys that we graduated with 50 years ago, and [finding out] what they’re doing and their families and just the camaraderie of meeting up with old classmates — that’s what it’s really all about for us.”
Clay said Muster is a great tradition that reminds him of the persistence of the Aggie spirit.
“It’s once a year to remember where you came from and why you’re doing what you’re doing and what the spirit of Aggieland’s about,” Clay said. “It’s just a tradition that you do not want to ever let die. It’s just that simple.”
Change on every front
Another former student returning to Aggieland is Edward Kainer, who studied sociology and is the Class of 1965 historian. Kainer said the size of the campus will surprise some people who haven’t been back to campus since their graduation.
“One of the major changes is campus is just so huge with new buildings,” Kainer said. “Back then, we could walk the entire campus pretty quickly and not have to cross any major highways. It would blow your mind away if you haven’t been back to campus in 50 years, so it’s quite a transition.”
World events kept pace with the transition the Class of 1965 experienced on campus. A nuclear war narrowly avoided after the Cuban Missile Crisis, the Cold War split Germany and much of Europe into opposing sides and American advisors were sent to Vietnam.
The Vietnam War was hugely prevalent to the Class of 1965, Kainer said. Many of their class enrolled in the military after graduation, including 11 who never returned home. The 11 classmates who died in the Vietnam War will be remembered during what would have been their 50 year class reunion with 11 seats that will remain symbolically empty, Kainer said.
“We did this at our 20 year reunion, we’re doing it again at our 50th,” Kainer said. “Most of us are former military, but these guys gave it all. These guys gave it all, so that’s of particular significance. They were young guys that had their whole lives ahead of them. So we pay tribute to that through what we’re doing. There will be 11 places empty. There will be photos there and they’ll be recognized by the class.”
Clay said another major difference he’s noticed is the importance of academics. In 1965 people were graded on a three-point grade scale instead of today’s four-point scale.
“All you had to do was get out, and you needed a 1.0 to get out, and that’s really what everybody pushed and shoved for,” Clay said. “Nowadays the academics are extremely important and we didn’t push it that hard, we just didn’t. The idea was to get your hours get your grade point of a 1.0-plus and go on down the road.”
The Class of 1965 will be present at Muster’s Camaraderie Barbeque, which runs Tuesday from 11 a.m. to 2 p.m. at Kyle Field’s Northern Plaza. Tickets are sold on site and at campus dining facilities, and may be purchased with Dining Dollars. The Class of 1965 will sit on the floor at Reed Arena during the Roll Call for the Absent, and all missing 1965 members will be honored.