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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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One step away
June 8, 2024

Bonfire Remembrance and the mystery of the Aggie spirit

Tanner Garza — THE BATTALION
Tanner Garza — THE BATTALION

In the 15 years since Stack fell, The Battalion has printed dozens of stories about the 1999 Aggie Bonfire Collapse and its aftermath.
Just this week we’ve reported on the collection of memorabilia left at the site, the team of architects that designed the memorial and the evolution of the Bonfire tradition. We’ve even reported on the reporters, interviewing members of The Batt staff that responded that fateful November morning. And we’re not alone — Bonfire is a Texas story that became in 1999 a national story. Hundreds of reporters have taken their shot at telling it.
But as I left the Bonfire Remembrance ceremony Tuesday morning, I found the Bonfire story no media outlet will ever be able to capture. It was written on the faces of those who lingered.
I saw a couple. Her head rested on his shoulders. His eyes were closed; tears spilled over hers.
I saw a cadet. He lifted his eyes skyward, past his friends who trickled away, past the lights of the memorial’s Spirit Ring.
I saw a man, framed by parking lot lights atop the highest point of the hill around the memorial. He stood motionless as a buddy squeezed his shoulder and walked away.
I know nothing of those who lingered. They might have been brothers to the fallen — or sisters, or cousins. They might have known a guy who knew a guy. They might feel a connection to one of the 12 we lost that day: Adams, Breen, Ebanks, Frampton, Hand, Heard, Kerlee, Jr., Kimmel, McClain, Powell, Self, West. Or they might never before have answered “here.”
I know nothing of the lingerers and that’s exactly how I want it. In them I saw the mystery of the Aggie spirit. In them I saw Bonfire.
I was eight years old on Nov. 18, 1999. My parents took me to Bonfire once or twice, but I have no clear memories of it. Like most of my peers, I rely on the stories.
One of those stories won’t leave my thoughts: the story of Aggie rings left behind in the wake of the collapse, the largest sacrifice those Aggies had to give.
The owner of one of the rings scratched out the name engraved inside, making the ring impossible to identify. The student refused to let their name matter.
Those who lingered Tuesday are as anonymous to me as the student who scratched out the name on his Aggie ring, but they’re also just as familiar.
The job of a storyteller — and all journalists are storytellers; don’t let them tell you differently — is to erase the blind spots. Seek out information; learn names, facts, dates. Sometimes that process falls short. The written word has its limits, and I encountered that boundary Tuesday.
I won’t learn the hometowns of the lingerers, or their class years. But, if I had to bet, I know where I can find them at 2:42 a.m. on Nov. 18, 2015.

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