Stephanie Cannon '06 April 21, 2016 2:34 PM updated: April 20, 2017 8:42 AM
"The Last Corps Trip" by Philo H. Duval, Jr. '51 is a poem held close by the Aggie family. Read at Muster ceremonies across the globe and engraved on the walls of the Bonfire Memorial, the majority of Aggies have heard it at least once. What you might not have heard, however, is how the author came to write this treasured and unifying poem. Happy Muster day, Aggies.
Read the full poem at AggieNetwork.com.
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It wasn’t the first time Buddy DuVal ’51 used poetry as a way to process through things he couldn’t quite talk about. So, as he sat in the classroom listening to a professor criticize members of the Corps of Cadets for being out of class for a Corps trip, he knew he needed a pencil.
The professor, “a man who didn’t wear a uniform like the rest of us,” told the class that if the Corps were given a one-way trip to hell, they’d leave a week early, DuVal said.
The professor’s words packed a wallop; his tone unkind. DuVal sat down in his dorm room to write his rebuttal.
“I got to thinking about it,” he said, “and Corps trips, they were something that the school okayed,” DuVal said. “We didn’t go unless we were supposed to.” The dates for Corps trips were set far in advance. It wasn’t a surprise that the cadets were out of class.
“So, I just wrote what I thought would happen if the whole school took off on a Corps trip,” he said. It certainly wouldn’t be to hell, as the professor had suggested.
That day, there were some representatives from a church on campus. He saw them earlier in the day watching cadets march. So he started.
It was Judgment Day in Aggieland…
“I had a lot of thoughts form in my head,” DuVal said.
And tenseness filled the air;
All knew there was a trip at hand,
But not a soul knew where
He purposefully brought in all the different student groups on campus. “I mentioned what they’d be doing when visitors would come to look us over,” he said.
Assembled on the drill field
Was the world-renowned Twelfth Man,
The entire fighting Aggie team
And the famous Aggie Band.
Over the years, not all of his poems hit the mark, DuVal said. Many were crumpled and thrown away, but this one was different. “I started asking people to read it,” he said. “I didn’t have one person say, ‘Why don’t you get rid of this?’”
When his roommate, Joseph Bravenec ’50, took it to a group of seniors, it suddenly grew legs. Head yell leader Red Duke ’50—if his memory serves correctly—read it at the next yell practice.
That was the first time the poem was read publicly, but now more than 60 years later, there’s no way to know how many times it’s been spoken. On April 21, it will be read at Aggie Musters around the world.
Through time and generations, “it holds its own,” he said.
“I’ve just been lucky in that I’ve written quite a few things in my life, and a lot of it has been about the school. I generally do it in a way that says the truth. That’s about all I can tell you.”
"The Last Corps Trip" is memorialized on the north wall of the Sanders Corps of Cadets Center. Photo by Jerry Cooper '63