Silver Taps

(cc) Stuart Seeger - Flickr

(cc) Stuart Seeger – Flickr

The Spirit of Aggieland

Some may boast of prowess bold
Of the school they think so grand
But there’s a spirit can ne’er be told
It’s the Spirit of Aggieland.

The Spirit of Aggieland. From the outside looking in, you can’t understand it. From the inside looking out, you can’t explain it.

Remembering Fallen Aggies

Perhaps nowhere is the Spirit of Aggieland demonstrated as poignantly, or as beautifully, as in Silver Taps.

One of Texas A&M University’s most honored and solemn traditions, Silver Taps is held on the first Tuesday of the month, when necessary, to honor any graduate or undergraduate student who has passed away while enrolled at Texas A&M.

The tradition began in 1898, when the first Silver Taps was held to honor Lawrence Sullivan Ross, the former Governor of the Great State of Texas and President of the Agricultural and Mechanical College of Texas, or Texas AMC (now Texas A&M University).

(cc) Cushing Memorial Library and Archives, Texas A&M - Flickr

(cc) Cushing Memorial Library and Archives, Texas A&M – Flickr

On the morning of Silver Taps, a small card is placed at the base of the flagpole in the university’s Academic Plaza, bearing the deceased student’s name, class, major, and birthdate.

At 10:15 p.m., all lights on campus are extinguished as hymns begin to chime from Albritton Tower. Students gather in silence in front of the statue of Lawrence Sullivan Ross in Academic Plaza.

(cc) Cushing Memorial Library and Archives, Texas A&M - Flickr

(cc) Cushing Memorial Library and Archives, Texas A&M – Flickr

At 10:30 pm, those who have gathered to pay tribute to their fallen fellow Aggie begin to hear the click of boots in the distance as the Ross Volunteers, a special unit of the Texas A&M Corps of Cadets, march into the plaza and fire a 21-gun salute.

(cc) Cushing Memorial Library and Archives, Texas A&M - Flickr

(cc) Cushing Memorial Library and Archives, Texas A&M – Flickr

Buglers stationed on the top of the Academic Building then play a special rendition of Taps, known as “Silver Taps”, a haunting melody composed by Colonel Richard J. Dunn.

The song is played three times: once to the north, once to the south, and once to the west. It is never played to the east, because the sun will never again rise on that fallen Aggie.

I have witnessed the Silver Taps ceremony, many years ago. My pulse quickens and goosebumps envelop my body as I remember the experience, even after all these years. It is truly an amazing thing …

  • to behold a crowd of college students quietly and solemnly assemble;
  • to hear the click of boots in the distance, moving closer with every step;
  • to watch the Ross Volunteers march in with such dignity and respect;
  • to hear the muffled voices as commands are given for the 21-gun salute;
  • to be startled by the sharp crack of the rifles splitting the night air with their explosive tribute to the fallen;
  • to hear invisible buglers play the haunting refrains of Silver Taps in the dark of the night;
  • and then to watch that same crowd of college students quietly and reverently disperse.

It is one of the many things that make me proud to be an Aggie. It is humanity at its finest.

It’s the Spirit of Aggieland.

NOTE: According to the official web site of Texas A&M University’s Division of Student Affairs, the arrangement for Silver Taps “is not formally written; it is passed from bugler to bugler.”
Paul O'Rear Signature

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2 thoughts on “Silver Taps

  1. Paul, the last Silver Taps ceremony I attended was my senior year at A&M, 1975. Taps played that evening for two students who’d recently died – one, a freshman who fell asleep at the wheel while driving home for the weekend late one Friday night – and the other, for another senior, found dead in his apartment. Tho I personally knew neither, I felt a genuine closeness to both as I recalled many a desperate “escape” from the rigors of Aggieland late on Fridays myself in an effort to get home for a brief respite my fish year, and I knew how close that senior was to graduating, the stress he was under, and the anticiipation of soon being finished!

    Added to all that emotion, I was moved to think that 50 years earlier, my dear ol’ dad, Marvin A. Bennett, class of ’29, was just another rowdy fish moving about that same campus, in the shadow of some of the same, grand old oaks, in 1925. Those are experiences I will never forget. The A&M experience is one I continue to be grateful for.

    Thanks for writing…

    your aging Aggie uncle,
    Tim Bennett, class of ’75

  2. Paul,
    I loved reading your beautifully written words for this solemn tradition at A&M. I will never forget my very first Silver Taps. I had been told all about it, read about it, but no one can truly understand it unless they personally attend. After that first time, I decided that I would try to go to every single Silver Taps while attending A&M. I went to many……but my last one was for the 12 who lost their lives in the Bonfire tragedy… experience I will never forget.

    I, like you, am proud to be an Aggie.