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The Battalion

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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Texas A&M University System Chancellor John Sharp attends the Class of 1972 50-year reunion in Kyle Field on April 20, 2022.
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Farewell from the graduating Battalion staff of 2024
Farewell from the graduating Battalion staff of 2024
The Battalion May 4, 2024

Tradition spanning generations

In a 101-year lifetime, Virgil Dabney, Class of 1922, has worked his way through college, worked his way through 43 years of teaching and left behind a trail of generations of Aggies who believe in the things he taught them.
Born on Dec. 2, 1899, Dabney was 18 years old during the height of World War I.
His family hardly had enough money to support the children, much less send one to college. He decided to pay for school himself, and after working with his father as a carpenter for a year, he had saved enough to attend college for the first year.
“With all respect to my mother and dad, I received only a one dollar bill while I was going to A&M. I worked my way through,” he said. “After high school, one night I turned to my mother and I said, `Momma I’m going to A&M.’ Finally, Momma quit washing dishes, and looked at me and said, `That would be nice.’ She knew I couldn’t go there — we didn’t have any money. So I worked.”
From February to September, Dabney worked as a carpenter at Ft. Sam Houston in San Antonio to earn money to pay for his first year at A&M. For every year that he attended classes at A&M, he would take off a year to work and save money to pay for the next year of courses.
Dabney entered A&M as a freshman in Sept. 1918. Not long after settling into classes and the everyday grind of college life, the Corps of Cadets was conscripted into service for World War I.
“During World War I, early in Sept. of 1918, the entire military corps of Texas A&M was mustered into military service,” Dabney said. “At that time, there wasn’t a single senior on campus. The seniors had already received their assignments, some of them were even in France engaged in actual warfare. The juniors were scheduled to go in early fall, sophomores in the winter, and us freshmen in the spring.”
Although Dabney was majoring in industrial art education, his courses changed once the cadets were put in the military. Each cadet was required to take courses in infantry training — specifically trench warfare and machine gun fire.
On Nov. 11, 1918, the cadets were instructed to form a semicircle around the College President Dr. William Bizzell’s home.
“Dr. Bizzell came to the front porch and in a few words simply said, `the war is over,’ ” Dabney said. “When he said that, you could look around at that group of cadets and see they were puzzled. You were standing there at attention, but you couldn’t help but glance to the left and glance to the right and question yourself, `Did I hear what he said?’ And finally, it dawned on the Corps what Dr. Bizzell had said, and all at once, that cadet corps burst into a yell. And it continued so long and so loud, that you wondered if it would ever quit.”
The armistice that ended the fighting was signed November 11, 1918, before the sophomore or freshman classes were shipped out, and World War I officially ended with the Treaty of Versailles in June 1919.
Dabney said the influx of students continued after the war’s conclusion, and, at times, as many as 300 students were placed in temporary housing tents on the present day Law-Puryear Field. The tents contained beds and a large wood burning stove to keep the cadets warm.
“The tents were about 12 by 12, and they had stuff in them for either two or four cadets,” he said. “We didn’t have facilities, like showers or water in the tents. It wasn’t too bad, until the winter hit. It was an unusually hard winter, and the snow would cover our firewood.”
Dabney was assigned to Row One, Tent One in front of the YMCA Building his junior year. He roomed with a cadet from Louisiana named Morgan.
“Life by that time had returned to normal in the cadet corps, which meant that there was a lot of heavy school work, heavy assignments, and of course, fun,” Dabney said. “Morgan and I went back to our tent after supper one night, but there wasn’t any tent there. It had been picked up by the freshman, and carried over to the the middle of the drill field. And it sat there for three days and three nights, until Col. Ashburn read out orders in Sbisa mess hall that Dabney and Morgan’s tent was to be removed from the drill field and returned to its original location.”
In the winter of 1919, an influenza epidemic hit the campus, and cadets housed in tents were affected the most, Dabney said.
“Almost daily, there was some member of the Corps taken by that influenza,” Dabney said. “No Aggie will ever forget what he experienced when he went to bed at ten o’ clock at night. All of the sudden, what would you hear? Taps.”
“After all these years, I can still feel the skin move on my arm. It was Silver Taps playing, and that meant that another buddy had died.”
Dabney decided to not take a year off to work after his junior year, and instead took 23 credit hours his last semester to graduate in Sept. of 1923.
After graduating from A&M, Dabney went back to Wichita Falls High School to resume his teaching position. After only three months, he was called back to College Station to assume the role of an assistant lecturer in the College of Industrial Arts Education.
“I didn’t like the position, and after six months, I quit,” he said.
Dabney spent the next four years working as a carpenter on a contract basis.
“After all that work, I finally decided I was going to go back and teach,” Dabney said.
He spent the next 38 years at San Jacinto High School teaching wood shop, and later, mechanical drawing.
“Some of the things that didn’t mean much to me then mean a lot now,” he said. “The biggest reward that I received in teaching came to me one year when a girl came to me, and she asked me if I would give her away in marriage. It didn’t mean much to me then, but I think of it now and it is one of the greatest rewards I received.”
Dabney retired from San Jacinto High in 1965, and moved to Kerrville, where he and his wife of 65 years– Katie Mae – ranched.
Dabney now resides in the Veteran’s Administration Retirement Center in Kerrville. He says that students from San Jacinto High School still visit him.
“I remember them only as boys — 14, 15 and 16 years old … they’ll come in the door and say my name is so and so. Now those boys are 70 and 80 and even 85,” he said.
Travis Dabney, Class of 1996 and Virgil’s grandson, said his grandfather taught him that college and hard work are not optional.
“It became unacceptable not to graduate from college after him,” Travis Dabney said. “He instilled a work ethic in all of us. He would put me to work driving his truck and tractor at the ranch when I was only eight years old.”
Looking back, Dabney speaks about things he wished he had known as a young man entering A&M.
“I wish that they had told me the importance of learning the English language,” Dabney said. “And of studying your dictionary one page a day. Study your bible one page a day.”
Both of Dabney’s sons, Robert and Thomas, Class of 1960 and 1962, respectively, attended A&M, along with Travis and two of his siblings, and several cousins. Dabney says he likes the thought of his great-grandchilden– of whom there are seven, so far– following his lead and attending his alma mater.
“One boy is a natural-born Aggie — his great-grandaddy, his grandad and his mother and father are all Aggies of Texas A&M,” Dabney said.”He’s a pedigree Aggie, and one of these days I’ll give him this ring. This is the mark of my college education.”
Sommer Bunce contributed to this story

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