At approximately 2:42 a.m. on November 18, 1999, the 59-foot high stack, consisting of about 5000 logs, collapsed during construction. Of the 58 students and former students working on the stack, 12 were killed and 27 were injured. Left in the wake is my heart and soul, forever marred by the events of that morning and the days and weeks that followed.
For the families and friends who were there that day, my heart still pangs for you. I cannot imagine having Thanksgiving weekend feeling like a seat is empty at the table. I often wonder where those who gave their lives would have ended up if not for the fate their paths met that day.
For the tradition that was Bonfire, the Aggie saying is fitting, “”From the outside looking in, you can’t understand it. And from the inside looking out, you can’t explain it.” I remember begrudgingly hearing senior students running through the hall at some ungodly hour of the morning, screaming to wake-it-up and go to cut. To go to stack. To build. To whatever it was. I remember the dorm cheer as we circled up outside – eyes darkened from lack of sleep, hair messed up and shoved underneath my “pot”, the painted hard hat I wore. The smell of football season in the air, and the bleariness of it all.
Somewhere along the way, that personal early morning shake up to my system became a tradition. And watching the stack take shape was something expected to see in the skyline of a Fall College Station semester. The day that Center Pole came in. The sunsets that used to fall with the cranes and logs silhouetted in the oranges and pinks. The laughter. The friendships. The unspoken bond and understanding that made us Aggies.
I’m not saying laying the tradition to rest was the right or wrong thing to do. I’m not going to go the codger “Ol’ Ag” route and say that I’m a diehard and that no matter what, Bonfire should live on. I am proud to say that I’m of the era that saw Bonfire burn. I am saddened and heavy hearted to say that I am of the era that I saw 12 people give their lives, and the final days of Bonfire had been seen.
I remember the candle vigil. The prayers. The silence that fell on a mourning class of thousands. In the days that followed, the news cameras, the tears, the funerals. I remember watching people rescued, and pitching in, and praying that more would be found ok, and less soul-wrenching agony watched. As people collapsed and cried, as parents were told their children would not return, as an entire generation of Aggies became marreded by what was once our most sacred tradition, one thing stood true.
What I remember most, and perhaps with the most regard, is the true giving Aggie spirit that rose from the ashes from a stack of logs that never burned. The one that said we would not forget, but we would not go down with it. We would rise again, and remember that Aggies encompass a good and forthright honor that makes us who we are. To give memoriam to the 12, to respect what they had given to a school who instilled them with the pride, valor and honor they so justly deserved.
I will never forget. I will never let it go. I will never forget that spirit.
We are the Aggies. The Aggies are we.
Nov 18, 1999.