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The Student News Site of Texas A&M University - College Station

The Battalion

The Student News Site of Texas A&M University - College Station

The Battalion

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Farewell from the graduating Battalion staff of 2024
The BattalionMay 4, 2024

Burning question – Life more important than preserving tradition

 
 

Over the next few days, many will gather to memorialize the students whose lives were lost in the collapse of the 1999 Aggie Bonfire.
Thursday afternoon, the Polo fields, the site where Bonfire was once held, will welcome many of these people as the Bonfire Me0morial is officially dedicated.
On Saturday night there will be another event that will aid in remembering those lost: an off-campus, unsanctioned bonfire. However, this event is not a fitting memorial; it is not prudent to remember the deceased by participating in the very activity that killed them. Continuing some sort of bonfire, whether on- or off-campus, silences the voices of those who have died or have been injured. More deaths and more injuries will occur if bonfires continue to be built.
The Student Bonfire organization, describing the unity that Bonfire promotes, says on its Web site, “The bonds formed at Bonfire extend beyond dorms, outfits and organizations to include the entire Aggie family.”
While unity among the students of A&M is a well-intentioned goal, the students who have died or been injured as a result of Bonfire must not be forgotten. Sanctity of life should always take a priority over tradition, spirit and unity.
In the February/March 2000 issue of the Touchstone, Danny Yeager reported that, in addition to the 12 deaths in 1999, there were 27 injuries from the collapse. From 1991 to 1994, Bonfire related injuries went from 58 to 85. There had also been three other Bonfire-related deaths prior to 1999.
The collapse of 1999 was the third collapse. The first occurred in 1958 and the second in 1994; the collapse of Bonfire in 1994 was an unheeded warning. The final report of the Special Commission on the 1999 Texas A&M Bonfire released in May of 2000 says that the explanation given for the 1994 collapse, that the ground was unstable due to rain, was inadequate and failed to address the structural problems of the stack that would eventually lead to the 1999 tragedy.
The message of the 1999 collapse is simple: no more Bonfire. The voice of the Twelfth Man’s blood cries out from the ground. Never again must such a tragedy occur. If Bonfire is brought back, even with an improved structure, there is no guarantee that such an event will never happen again. Human error, weather conditions, alcohol and negligence will always be factors, among many others.
Perhaps those killed in 1999 would, in fact, want Bonfire to continue. Or perhaps they, while struggling to survive under the fallen logs, though grateful for the great traditions of A&M, realized that life is too sacred to jeopardize in the name of these traditions. Their actual last thoughts are known to none of us. However, it is crucial not to think of them as martyrs. They were students who loved their school and community, and they are missed by thousands who will never even meet them. Their lives were lost, not given, to Bonfire. It can be said with confidence that they would not have chosen to die that day in the name of Aggie tradition, as one would in the name of God or country.
One thing for certain though, is that the Agricultural and Mechanical College of Texas was a great institution before Bonfire, and it will continue to be great after Bonfire. With time, A&M will see new traditions. Stories of new heroes will be passed from generation to generation. Bonfire will always stand as a legend and symbol of the principles and virtues that are a part of this University.
Bonfire has had its time in Aggie history, along with the all-male status of the University and the name “Agricultural and Mechanical College of Texas.” A&M survived both of the changes from these “Ol’ Army” ways to its current state, and it will survive the loss of Bonfire, too.
It is now time to move on past Bonfire and into a new era in the history of A&M; all the while never forgetting the great things it symbolized and the people it united. Now it is time to unite again and remember the 12 members of the Twelfth Man who lost their lives on that infamous November day.
Cody Sain is a senior philosophy major

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