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Aggie shares how she wrote Bonfire verses for “Last Corps Trip”

Susan "Sue" Owen '94 April 21, 2023 12:16 PM updated: April 21, 2023 12:25 PM

In 2023, Kathryn (Holmes) Smith ’73 shared with The Association of Former Students the story of how she came to write additional verses to “The Last Corps Trip” after the 1999 Bonfire collapse. Both poems can be read here.


My family’s Aggie roots go back a hundred years. One of the trees on Simpson Drill Field was for a relative one generation before my dad. We were on campus frequently for games and because at that time the Agricultural Extension Service was housed on campus and Dad, Class of '37, was a country agricultural agent. Any time we were on campus, we would visit the tree and Dad would pay his respects with a moment of silence. 

I, however, was a girl, and thus grew up never believing I would get to be a part of that legacy. I went to West Texas State, picked for the very important reason that the colors were maroon and white. 

But by the time I graduated, times had changed and as a grad student in political science, I could finally walk the halls my dad and older brother had walked. For two years I lived the life I had dreamed of as a child. 

My son, Class of ’03, continued that dream and legacy.

Jay was a fish in the Corps that fall that changed us all. He had proudly been working on Bonfire at every stage. When he had a chance to call home, the calls were always about this and about the thrill of us - me, Dad and him - being able to attend "his" Bonfire together. 

He had called the day before saying he was working an all-night shift on the 17th. Then, a few minutes after 3 in the morning of the 18th, my phone rang. I will never forget the shaking voice or those words. "Mom, Stack fell. Pray." 

Knowing of past events, I started to say they will just rebuild it, when he cut me off. "Mom, people are hurt. Lots of people, and worse. Please pray. I am off to help." Thus started the longest few hours of my life. I turned on the webcam and just saw darkness and flashing lights. I checked TexAgs, my virtual home, and no one yet even knew of a problem. I emailed an Aggie email list, and one person there who lived in College Station replied they were going to drive over to verify. NONE of us wanted or really could believe it was true. There was no media coverage at the time. So I waited and prayed. Knowing our entire extended family knew Jay was working on Stack that night, I waited till dawn to start making phone calls that tragedy had happened, and that Jay was safe. 

As those tragic days followed, like most of the Aggie family, I watched the death count rise. I made a pilgrimage over that night because this mom needed to hold and hug my son… and he needed that hug. I became the surrogate mom for the fish in his unit, many far from home and their own mom hugs. I went to the candlelight vigil with them, and they picked me up to go with them to the one in Austin.

From my childhood, and my own Aggie experience, and the days living far away when Bonfire was actually televised, I could almost recite “The Last Corps Trip” from memory. When we lost Timothy, and the count reached 12, my Aggie heart was driven to use my writing voice to try to capture a small part of what I was feeling. 

I also wanted this poem I was creating to feel and sound truly like Mr. DuVal [author of “The Last Corps Trip”] was the poet and I was finishing his story. I shared it on Texags. I never thought it would still be part of the Aggie story years later. I still wish the need to write and live those memories had never happened. And when huge life events touch my family – Aggie boots and Ring, graduation, weddings, grandbabies (at 74, I am still teaching English at Arlington Bowie High School and celebrating being the mother of two and the grandmother of three) – I still am so thankful my son, who was simply too tired to actually work on Stack all night, who walked back to his dorm shortly after midnight that tragic night, was still with me sharing those events, and prayerful for comfort for the 12 families that will never share those events with their sons and daughters.

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