Campus Muster Ceremony Keynote Address
April 2022, Reed Arena, College Station, TX
[AUTHENTICITY CERTIFIED: Text
version below transcribed directly from audio]
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
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
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
[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
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
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.
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
Our son, Matt, has a degree in History from the
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
We stood in front of the church at Sainte-Mère-Église and
talked about the
courage of the paratroopers who fought and died
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
Pointe du Hoc and we marveled at
James Earl Rudder's brilliance and his
Rangers' courage and
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.
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
Wall of the Missing and reminded
them that that meant 498 families who never recovered any part of their loved
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
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.
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
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: https://www.tamu.edu/traditions/aggie-culture/aggie-terminology/index.html]
"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: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Traditions_of_Texas_A%26M_University]
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: https://www.tamu.edu/traditions/aggie-culture/aggie-terminology/index.html]
3 See also
this site for a thoroughgoing account
of the battle at Sainte-Mère-Église
Video of Entire 2022 Campus Muster at Texas A&M
Original Image of Bridge Source: https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Pegasus_Bridge,_June_1944_B5288.jpg
Original Image of Brittany Cemetery Source: https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Brittany_cemetery_grounds_1.jpg
Text Note: Transcript by Michael E. Eidenmuller, Ph.D.
Image #2 Note: Slightly cropped to accentuate the array of white
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