Taylor Fennell '21 January 24, 2019 5:29 PM updated: January 30, 2019 8:42 AM
Editor’s note: Duane A. Strother '50 passed away at the age of 92 in July 2018. Months later, his daughter, Denise Christensen, found a story he had written about his Aggie Ring. She shared it with The Association of Former Students, and we knew we needed to share it with the Aggie Network. It has been lightly edited for clarity.
An Aggie Ring Story
By Duane A. Strother '50
My active duty stint began November 7, 1950, with the 2nd Armored Division in Fort Hood, Texas. My "plush" and initial assignment to the 502nd Replacement Company was short-lived. During a division-wide field inspection, Major General Williston B. Palmer asked fellow Aggie 2nd Lt. Bill King and I where we had graduated from. Our answer, “Texas A&M,” caused my immediate transfer to Company C’s 66th Medium Tank Battalion, Combat Command "B.” Bill King was assigned to another company in the 66th.
In April of 1951, I learned I would be deployed to Germany. I promptly proposed to my sweetheart, Kathlyn Brucks of Hondo, Texas. Kathlyn and I had met at the Texas A&M-TU Thanksgiving game in 1948. We married on June 17, 1950. I was shipped out two weeks later.
Combat Command B was stationed near Gonsenheim, Germany. We were part of the Cold War NATO build-up forces — combat-loaded and fully fueled at all times. Our mission was to set up defensive positions along the Rhine River. Full deployment to the field via unannounced alerts during the day or night seemed to take place frequently.
Kathlyn was able to join me in November 1951, and we were able to find quarters nearby in Mainz, Germany.
It was during one very extensive operation involving the entire European command, in the spring of 1952, that I lost my Aggie Ring and wedding band. I had recently been promoted to 1st lieutenant. I was now executive and motor officer of Company C.
As part of this extensive maneuver exercise, our tank company was moving several kilometers cross-country each day. Tanks break down. When they do, it is the motor officer's responsibility to get them repaired, back in action or towed to the rear. The five-man crew of each tank must also be taken care of — food, water, and medical attention, if necessary.
After three days and nights of breakdowns with no sleep, or at the best, very little, we finally got all of our disabled tanks and crews gathered up and back with the company. This took place just outside a small German village, where the company was deployed. We stopped at a field early in the morning. We learned that the exercise had ended and the company was preparing to make the 80-kilometer motor march back to Gonsenheim. I took advantage of the lull to wash my face and hands using my steel helmet and water from our field kitchen. Resting my helmet on the front bumper of my jeep, I slipped the rings off my finger. I heard them hit the bottom of my steel helmet. I was exhausted and not clear-headed.
Not even thinking about my rings and concerned about the formation of the tank march column, I slung the dirty, soapy water along with my rings from my helmet out into the dark into the large, bare field.
I climbed back into my jeep with the motor sergeant driving and fell into line at the end of the column. After sleeping off and on during the motor march back to Gonsenheim, my rings were not missed until we arrived back at our base.
I realized instantly what had happened.
The sergeant and I returned immediately to the field where our tanks had been parked. The field had been plowed up by the tanks — the soil gouged and tramped down. We tried to search the ground by the light of the jeep headlights. No rings. It was like looking for a needle in a haystack. We gave up and returned to base. I was distraught that I had lost the two rings which were very, very important in my life.
When I told Kathlyn, we were both upset and deeply saddened.
As a shot in the dark, I wrote the burgermeister of the small German village where the maneuvers occurred. Our landlady translated my letter to German. I inquired if anyone in the village had possibly found the rings. Approximately a week later the burgermeister replied, “YES!” Two small boys from the village had found my rings! The boys had found the rings while scavenging the area after our tank company had left the area.
Kathlyn and I made the trip to the village on a Sunday after we had received the good news. The burgermeister rang his bell (as customary to gather the townspeople) and the village population gathered in the town square. We gave each of the boys 20 Deutsch marks and a box of almond Hershey bars. In 1952, 20 Deutsch marks in the Germany economy was a tidy sum, but the boys were more thrilled with the candy bars.
For me, I was very thankful and happy at the outcome of this Aggie Ring story.
Postscript from Mr. Strother’s daughter: Duane rarely removed his Aggie Ring after almost losing it in Germany. After 60 years, his Ring was so worn he ordered a new ring in 2011. During Aggie Ring Day April 2013, he proudly handed his grandson, Callan Duane Christensen '13, his own Aggie Ring.