Texas A&M is a university built on a foundation of military history and involvement. In his new book “Over There in the Air: The Fightin’ Texas Aggies in World War I 1917-1918,” John A. Adams uncovers pieces of the school’s history that had been forgotten for decades or had never been recognized at all and highlights the incredible stories of a few Aggies who served the U.S. through aviation in World War I.
As a former student and current College Station resident, John A. Adams’ love for A&M has been growing for nearly 50 years. He graduated from A&M in 1973 with a bachelor’s degree in history, and then enlisted in the Air Force Reserves before returning to A&M to earn his master’s degree and Ph.D. in history.
Adams has written and co-written several publications on a variety of historical topics, several of which are about A&M. He said his most recent book, “Over There in the Air” combines years of painstaking research to spotlight the students that served their country in aviation.
Adams said his history as both an A&M student and a pilot is what led him to conduct the research that led to the creation of this book.
“I was in the Corps while I was at A&M, in Squadron 1,” Adams said. “I’m a pilot; I learned to fly when I was 14. I was a history major, so I’ve always been interested in aviation, and I’ve done a number of books on A&M.”
Several pieces of writing have already been published about both the history of A&M and World War I. Therefore Adams had to figure out what parts were missing in the story and what content had not yet been covered. He said he used both his love of A&M and aviation as inspiration on the project and was soon met with more material than he had ever anticipated.
“I had seen somewhere that there were only five or six Aggies involved in the Air Service in the first World War, but when I finished my research I had found 253 Aggies,” Adams said. “As you find one, you find another and another, and it just begins to add up. So what I did was I picked a few of them and told their stories in the book.”
Adams said the research that was needed to complete the book involved a tedious process. Along with Bill Page, library associate II at Evans Library, and Henry Dethloff, A&M professor emeritus of history, Adams searched countless records, newspaper clippings and archives, and cross-checked with A&M yearbooks and documents to ensure accuracy.
“There were records in Austin, in Washington, D.C, in St. Louis, even in several small-town newspapers,” Adams said. “It’s a real hunt, which is the fun.”
Page has worked in Evans Library for 42 years and has assisted Adams on many of his projects in the past. His research primarily focuses on women and minorities, especially those in Brazos County and those connected to A&M, so he was able to provide Adams with several sources for his work.
“I was on a local committee that was involved in researching and celebrating the history of Brazos County in World War I, which of course includes Texas A&M,” Page said. “[John] quickly figured out that I had information that he wanted. So as I continued my own research, I kept my eyes open for anything pertaining to A&M aviators or ground crew.”
Page’s fascination with history stems from his passion for family history for individual stories. Page said every person, on A&M’s campus and all over the world, has a story worth telling.
“History, to me, is all about the stories that we choose to tell and the emphasis we place on those stories,” Page said.
“Over There in the Air” was published by Texas A&M University Press and is now available for purchase.