Mark Anthony Welsh III

Campus Muster Ceremony Keynote Address

delivered 21 April 2022, Reed Arena, College Station, TX


[AUTHENTICITY CERTIFIED: Text version below transcribed directly from audio]

Howdy!1 Thank you, Erin [Nugent]. You know, as a non-Aggie, being invited to speak at Muster is obviously an incredible honor. But I gotta tell you, it’s also a little bit intimidating, especially as I stand up here and look out at a 50-year class and think about the incredible things they’ve done to distinguish themselves and Texas A&M over the last five decades. And then as I look at the honored family members who join us tonight, and realize that they’ve lost a part of themselves that can never be replaced.

To both of those groups: Welcome home.

One of the coolest things about being invited to speak at the Muster here on campus is that you get to spend time with the members of the Muster Committee. Thirty incredible young men and women who have committed themselves completely to ensuring that this tradition not only doesn’t die, but that it gets better and better and more meaningful over time. I’d like to thank the members of the Muster committee along with President Banks for the privilege of being here and promise you that I’ll try hard to be worthy of this moment.

Before I start, I’d -- I’d like to also acknowledge my wife, Betty, who is sitting somewhere over there in the dark and is furious at me right now for even mentioning her name. In my world, she's everything. But more importantly for tonight, she's the remarkable mother of four Aggies. And Muster is all about the Aggie family. I love you, honey.

So, why me? That was my first thought when the committee asked me to speak at this ceremony. And some of you may be asking the same question right now. I really don’t know why the committee picked me. Maybe it's because it’s good occasionally to look at yourself through someone else’s eyes, someone who loves you.

But I suspect at least part of the reason is because I was lucky enough, as Erin mentioned, to be born into an Aggie family. Now, my mother -- if I’m being honest -- actually graduated from Arizona State University. But at her funeral last year, my sisters, my brother, and I were laughing because we have never heard those three words in our home since the day we were born -- because we were clearly an Aggie family.

My dad came to Texas AMC [Agricultural and Mechanical College] in the summer of 1942. And like almost all his classmates, he left when he was old enough after his 5th year and was accepted into the Army Air Corps Aviation Cadet Program. He returned after the war and graduated with the Class of ’46. He was then recalled to active duty for Korea and decided to stay in the newly formed United States Air Force where he served for 35 years.

Dad was one of that incredible generation of Americans and Aggies who flew and fought in three wars. He was awarded the Silver Star, the Distinguished Flying Cross. He was even nominated for the Congressional Medal of Honor for a mission in Vietnam. He also found time somewhere along the way to be the best possible husband, father, and friend that any of his children could have imagined.

He was the real deal.

Dad died in May of 2008.
And I miss him terribly, every day.
I think about him a lot.

Many of you know exactly how I feel.

The first day I drove onto campus in August of 2016 for my current job, arrived at the Bush School, I walked into my office and I felt my dad -- for the first time since he had died. Now, if I said that in most places they’d think I was crazy. But I know you understand.

Dad brought me to College Station for the first time when I was six years old. He wanted me to start learning the traditions, wanted me to feel a little bit of that spirit. And I’ve been in love with A&M ever since that day in 1960. Ironically, I didn’t attend A&M because I wanted to be my dad. He was a fighter pilot and the best way to get the pilot training was to attend the United States Air Force Academy, which I was lucky to do.

But as Erin mentioned, five of my six brothers and sisters are Aggies. In fact my sisters, Molly and Maureen, are with me here tonight -- both Aggies. Four of our nieces and nephews are Aggies, and, as Erin also mentioned, all four of Betty and I’s children. Our son, Mark, and his wife Ashley are both Fightin' Texas Aggie Class of '01 are here tonight, along with that grandson Erin mentioned, Jacob Welsh, who will start at Mays [Business School] in the fall, in the Class of 2026. Zowie.

My son, John -- I should mention that Mark also served as corps commander his senior year. He’s deeply, kind of dipped into Aggieland.

My son, John, followed my path through the United States Air Force Academy and became an Air Force pilot. He was eventually medically grounded and then medically discharged and returned here to A&M to attend the College of Medicine. He graduated as a doctor from Texas A&M in 2012 and is now an ER doc in South Texas.

Our son, Matt, has a degree in History from the College of Liberal Arts at A&M. He graduated in the Class of ’08. He served as a captain of the Aggie Rugby Club for three years and represented the university as a Division I All-American rugby player during that time.

And our daughter, Liz, graduated with honors from the Business Honors Program at the Mays School with the Fightin' Texas Aggies Class of 2010.

My dad was the first Aggie in our family. There are now 15 and counting. And his oldest son, the one who got away, is speaking at Muster. I’m betting dad’s pretty proud tonight. And any day a kid can make his dad proud is a good day.

Dad told me when I was very young that Muster was at the very heart of what it meant to be an Aggie. And I’ve always believed that’s true. I’ve been to Muster in 12 different countries over the years. The last was in Normandy, France in 2019 with Betty and a wonderful group of traveling Aggies.

Like many of you, I've also lit candles and answered for Aggie friends in war zones a long, long way from Texas. But easily my most memorable Muster was in 2009. At that time, I was working at the Central Intelligence Agency and my job was to help coordinate activity and operations between the Department of Defense and the Central Intelligence Agency. As part 0f that job I had a trip to a combat zone in April of 2009.

Now, dad had died in early May a year before, so this was his Muster. And I was going to have to miss it -- and it was killing me.

On the evening of April 20th, I flew with one other person into a small mountain valley, and after the helicopter dropped us off we were picked up by a 4-wheel vehicle and driven for awhile to a mud compound in the middle of nowhere. And I was introduced to a team of people who were there doing the nation's work. These happened to all be men, and as I met the five men who were at that compound I was struck immediately by one thing.

There are a lot of people on this earth who like to consider themselves a badass. But these guys didn't have to consider anything. They wrote the book. Their mission there was to identify, locate, and go after evil -- and bring it to justice, one way or the other.

Shortly after we got into the compound on that evening we -- after meeting them -- we went to bed. We got up at next morning. We kind of learned a little about the region around us. Our -- Our mission there was just to learn about this operation: what they were doing, how it was working, what we could do to help improve it.

They slept very late because they were nocturnal creatures. And late in the morning they began telling us what they actually did, and their mission there, the results they'd had, and how they thought we could help them going forward.

They went to bed in the afternoon and slept for a number of hours, and we got together for a late dinner. At that dinner, I sat with the leader of this group, and somehow we got started talking about families. And he asked me about my parents, and I mentioned that dad was an Aggie. And he looked up from eating and said, "Me, too." And that turned into a whole other conversation about family connections to Texas A&M.

There was one time during the meal where he paused, he was eating, he was quiet for a second, and then he looked up at me, because I had told him when dad had died, and he said, "You're missing your father's Muster." And I said, "Yeah, it -- it's killing me."

We finished dinner. They headed off to get kitted up after a little bit for their mission that night. And I just hung around. I got a note from the -- the guy who was with me to please them out at the compound at a certain time. He says, "Just walk out. They're going to be in the middle. They want to say goodbye before they take off for their mission," because we were going to leave later that night.

I walked out into the compound and the five of them are gathered in the middle of the compound. It's dark, but there's enough light -- I can see them -- and as I approached the group the first thing I noticed was how they looked == geared up, ready to do their job. And the only word I can use to describe my feelings is that they were primal. That stuck with me.

As I approached, my new Aggie friend reached his arm out and kind of pulled me in and put my arm over his shoulder and we huddled in the middle of the compound -- just a small five person huddle -- and I'm thinking, "What's this all about?"

And all of a sudden, one of them extends his arm and he lights a BIC lighter. Another one says, "Softly Call the Muster." My Aggie friend says: "Colonel Mark A. Welsh, Jr., Class of '46." And I answered for dad -- and just stared at that little flame in the middle of nowhere for about 10 seconds. And then it went out.

The group didn't say anything. Four of them just reached over and touched me, put a hand on my shoulder, squeezed my arm. One of them patted me on the head. (I'm not sure what that was for, but I wasn't going to question him.) And the last one was my new Aggie friend who put his hand on my shoulder and leaned into my ear and said: "I will never forget your father." And then he gathered himself, primal again, and turned and joined his team. And I watched them walk out of the compound into the night to do our nation's business.

And after they left, I lost it. I just stood there in the middle of that compound in the dark, sobbing, and thanked God that my father was an Aggie.

To this outsider, Muster is a remarkable window into the spirit of Aggieland. It's also a wonderful time to reflect on why Texas A&M matters, why Aggies matter, and what this ceremony tonight is really all about.

Good universities make an impact on their students, on their cities, on their states, even on their country. But great universities stand for something -- and this is a great university. I have always believed that Texas A&M serves as a call to the sons and daughters of Texas -- and increasingly, other states and other nations -- that you can be a part of something greater than yourself; that you can do more than you ever thought possible; that you can dream big dreams, Texas-sized dreams; and you can achieve them.

The 12th man is simply a call to a life of service.

Aggie core values are a call to a life of distinction.

And the Aggie honor code is a call to a life of honor.

Texas A&M attracts, challenges, and prepares people who answer those calls -- great people, inspirational people; people like you. And then it makes them better. My children are better men and women; they're better husbands and wives, better mothers and fathers. They're better citizens because they came to Texas A&M.

A&M makes Aggies better because it reinforces those things that mean the most to each one of us; "corny" things, things like faith and family, pride and patriotism, loyalty and respect, honor, integrity, courage; things that we feel -- all of us feel -- even if we don't talk about them all the time. Those things matter here.

For former students, I've always thought A&M served as a connection, maybe to a vision you once had of yourself, but certainly to an experience that was both intensely personal and commonly shared.

When I say "Fish Camp" or "Midnight Yell" or "Silver Taps" or the "Fightin' Texas Aggie Band," or the "Quad" or "Bonfire" or "G. Rollie," "fish sandwich," "the Commons," "now forming at the north end of Kyle Field," "Miss Rev," "Rudder," "Good Bull,"2 or simply, "The Chicken" -- something appears in your memory's eye, and a smile always comes to your face. That experience, this place will always be part of you. That's not true everywhere.

Most importantly, I think A&M remains a connection to those you shared it with. Your friends and classmates who, over the years, have led you, followed you, carried you, inspired you, consoled you, and constantly reminded you that Aggies don't just have pride. They also have great hearts. They have shoulders strong enough to help carry your burdens. And they have perpetually loyal souls.

Tonight is testament to that.

More than anything else, Muster's a celebration of them -- those Aggies who live their lives proudly, but no longer walk beside us. Some of them, against all human instinct, sacrificed themselves willingly in service to a nation they believed in enough to die for. Others were just overcome by life and all the things in it: accidents, despair, disease, time.

Muster matters because you come here, year after year after year, to remember them.

When my youngest son Matt and daughter Liz were in high school, Betty and I were living in Germany. One year, she encouraged me to take the two of them over -- over their Spring Break period to Normandy, France to see the beaches and the battlefields, and to show them that holy ground so they could learn and understand just a little bit of the experience that forged their grandfather into the incredibly special man he was.

Liz was a pretty mature high school freshman at the time and I was confident she'd appreciate the gravity of the things we'd see.

Matt, on the  other hand, was a testosterone laden 16-year-old meathead. And I honestly didn't have any idea how he [would] react to the experience. But we went anyway.

Pegasus Bridge, 9 June 1944; Horsa gliders can be seen top right where they landed. [Source: Quoted directly from Wikipedia.]

I still remember every minute of that trip. We stood at Pegasus Bridge and talked about the British glider assault that started the action of D-Day.

We stood in front of the church at Sainte-Mère-Église and talked about the courage of the paratroopers who fought and died there.3

We walked the beach at Arromanches  and marveled at the logistical planning and the incredible innovation that partnered with raw courage to eventually make the invasion successful.

We stood and we prayed together on both Omaha and Utah beaches.

We visited Pointe du Hoc and we marveled at James Earl Rudder's brilliance and his Rangers' courage and skill.

And along the way, we discussed defensive fortifications and infantry tactics and airborne glider operations, mortar and artillery fields of fire, and naval gunfire support -- the fascinating and horrible language of war. And while they both tried, they simply couldn't understand it all.

Brittany American Cemetery and Memorial Burial area as viewed from the top of the Memorial Chapel.

We finished at the American Cemetery in Brittany Saint James, which is the smaller and lesser known of the cemeteries, where American soldiers from the invasion force are buried. And as we stood in that beautiful and haunting place with its perfectly aligned white crosses, I told Matt and Liz about the 4,410 Americans who were buried there. I pointed out the 20 sets of brothers who lay side by side for eternity. And I showed them the 498 names on the Wall of the Missing and reminded them that that meant 498 families who never recovered any part of their loved one.

And all of a sudden, things just seemed to catch up with Matt. He suddenly just turned and walked away from us over to the nearest grave. And he put his hand on the cold marble of that single white cross -- and he broke down; because that, he could understand.  Somehow, even as a 16-year-old, Matt intuitively understood that the enormity of our loss was not in the agonizing number of white crosses but in what lay beneath each one.

Muster is the same. What matters isn't the total number of names that will be read during roll calls at the 300-plus Muster ceremonies around the world today. All that really matters is the one name that brought you here: your mom or dad; your husband or wife; your sister or brother; your son or daughter; your partner,  your roommate, your friend; that person whose memory you have committed to keeping alive.

Because that's what Aggies do.

It's why Aggies matter.

It's what Muster is all about.

It's why I am so honored to be here with you.

And it's why I am not at all ashamed to say I love you all.

Tonight, I remember Colonel Mark A. Welsh, Jr., Class of '46: my hero, my father, and my friend.

And I remember Monica Marie Welsh, Class of 1982: my hero, my sister, and my friend.

I love you both; and I miss you.

"Softly Call the Muster." It's such a beautifully poetic line. And very shortly it will be time to do exactly what it asks of us. I look forward to that.

Amen and Gig 'em.

"'Howdy' is the official greeting of Texas A&M. Students greeting one another -- and especially campus visitors — with a “howdy” has earned the university a reputation as the friendliest campus in the world. The origins of this tradition are unknown, but it is one that Aggies proudly continue." [Source:] "Students are encouraged to greet everyone they pass on campus with a smile and a howdy. Howdy is the preferred method for a speaker to get a large group's attention, as the members of the group are expected to return the "Howdy" back to the speaker." [Source:]

2  "“Good Bull' is a phrase used to describe anything that embraces or promotes the Aggie Spirit or the traditions of Texas A&M. It is also used to signify approval of virtually anything." [Source:]

3 See also this site for a thoroughgoing account of the battle at Sainte-Mère-Église

See also: Video of Entire 2022 Campus Muster at Texas A&M

Original Image of Bridge Source:,_June_1944_B5288.jpg

Original Image of Brittany Cemetery Source:

Text Note: Transcript by Michael E. Eidenmuller, Ph.D.

Image #2 Note: Slightly cropped to accentuate the array of white crosses

Page Created: 7/30/23

U.S. Copyright Status: Text = Used with permission. Images = Public domain.

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