Our household bleeds maroon. Daddy Russ and I are proud Fightin’ Texas Aggies and we join Aggies all over the world in remembrance today of The Aggie Bonfire Tragedy. It’s hard to explain to non-Aggies the profound impact this day had on A&M. We have a common saying, “From the outside looking in, you can’t understand it. And from the inside looking out, you can’t explain it.” To understand the depth of this tragedy I’d have to explain the Aggie Spirit and even me with all my words can’t seem to get it out.

The number TWELVE – it’s a hallowed number at A&M. We were members of the Big 12 Conference. A&M is the home of the 12th Man. And finally…12 years ago today we lost 12 members of our Aggie family in the Bonfire collapse.

Bonfire and Our Family

The Aggie Bonfire holds a special place in our hearts, particularly my husband’s.  We’ve been together for 10 years, and I’ve rarely heard him talk about the day Bonfire collapsed.

Russ with his dorm mates at cut

Russ was a Bonfire Crew Chief that year for his dorm, Crocker. Crocker lived and breathed Bonfire. They stuck to the old traditions, they were tough, mean, hardworking and frankly known as the a**holes of campus. Russ had worked hard to become a Crew Chief and it’s a pretty big honor on campus. His dorm had been working night and day on Bonfire. On Nov. 18, 1999, Crocker was supposed to be working on Bonfire at the time that it fell but they had switched with another dorm. Russ was walking across campus from studying for an exam and saw the ambulances flying by. He immediately dropped his things and rushed to stack. He was there about 10 minutes after it fell. He joined other students and emergency workers to begin the long process of trying to remove the logs off the students buried beneath.

I can only imagine what he saw and felt that day, and I hope you understand that I didn’t want to push him to relive it just so I could write a blog post. I know that he never forgets his time during Bonfire and occassionally he shares some of those good memories with me. I know he’ll have many stories for Baby Luke when he gets older. I am so thankful that by some twist of fate or as I’d like to think and act of God – that the dorms made that switch that day and my husband wasn’t on Bonfire at 2:42 a.m.

We lost so much that day 12 years ago – there is a void that can’t be filled. A&M will never be the same. But there is so much that continues on: pride, enduring sense of tradition, comraderie and a knowledge of something greater than ourselves. My family and I are proud to be Aggies. And, today we are united in mourning. There’s a spirit that can ne’er be told…

This is my sTORI being written as you read. – Love, Mommy Tori

Bonfire Memorial

Baby Luke with his father’s ax handle, pot and penny nail.

“The Last Corps Trip” (read before Bonfire would burn)

By P.H. DuVal Jr. ’51

It was Judgment Day in Aggieland And tenseness filled the air; All knew there was a trip at hand, But not a soul knew where.

Assembled on the drill field Was the world-renowned Twelfth Man, The entire fighting Aggie team And the famous Aggie Band.

And out in front with Royal Guard The reviewing party stood; St. Peter and his angel staff Were choosing bad from good.

First he surveyed the Aggie team And in terms of an angel swore, “By Jove, I do believe I’ve seen This gallant group before.

I’ve seen them play since way back when, And they’ve always had the grit; I’ve seen ’em lose and I’ve seen ’em win But I’ve never seen ’em quit.

No need for us to tarry here Deciding upon their fates; Tis plain as the halo on my head That they’ve opened Heaven’s gates.”

And when the Twelfth Man heard this, They let out a mighty yell That echoed clear to Heaven And shook the gates of Hell.

“And what group is this upon the side,” St. Peter asked his aide, “That swelled as if to burst with pride When we our judgment made?”

“Why, sir, that’s the Cadet Corps That’s known both far and wide For backing up their fighting team Whether they won lost or tied.”

“Well, then,” said St. Peter, “It’s very plain to me That within the realms of Heaven They should spend eternity.

And have the Texas Aggie Band At once commence to play For their fates too we must decide Upon this crucial day.”

And the drum major so hearing Slowly raised his hand And said, “Boys, let’s play The Spirit For the last time in Aggieland.”

And the band poured forth the anthem, In notes both bright and clear And ten thousand Aggie voices Sang the song they hold so dear.

And when the band had finished, St. Peter wiped his eyes And said, “It’s not so hard to see They’re meant for Paradise.”

And the colonel of the Cadet Corps said As he stiffly took his stand, “It’s just another Corps Trip, boys, We’ll march in behind the band.”

12 Responses

  1. Joel Neland

    Without Bonfire I would have never known Russ and therefore you. Was one of the best experiences of my life and sad that my children will not know.

    There are stories that we probably will not share with you though.

    Also nice post. Really brought me back.

  2. Nicole Lee

    This was the only night my husbands dorm didn’t work but he wat there and remembers well the spirit and heartache of that fateful night. I am blessed that he survived and my heart still goes out to those that didn’t.

  3. Sandra Ghattas

    I just came upon this and I don’t how blogs work but I’m about to be a chair and reading this was just amazing. I know the bonfire we do isn’t the same as the one your husband was involved in but it’s still a huge part of me and I’m just so glad I read this. Thank you! The picture of your baby with the pot and handle are so cute by the way.

    • torijohnson5

      Hi Sandra! Thank you so much for stopping by my blog. Bonfire brings so many wonderful memories to so many people! It is such a huge part of A&M. I also appreciate the compliment on the pics of my little Luke. Hope you stop by The sTORIbook again!

    • tori@torijohnsonpr.com

      Thank you, Nicole! It is definitely a day that will always weigh on Aggie hearts.

  4. Rikki S.

    I just came across this page and wanted to share my thoughts. I think that this is an amazing way to share your husband’s story with your son (the picture is great, by the way) as well as with anyone else. Bonfire holds a special place in my heart as well. It was the first place where I truly fit in here at A&M. I was a chair the year after Sandra, and I definitely agree with her. The stack may be built in a different way, but the Spirit is still the same. All of my buddies that I have made while building are more than friends to me; they are family. It is amazing how so many people have been brought together in the past by this tradition and how it continues to bring new Ags and ol’ Ags together. God bless you for standing by your husband, and may God be with him every time he remembers and relives all of his Bonfire memories.

    • tori@torijohnsonpr.com

      You are so kind to visit my blog and comment! Thank you! I love hearing from fellow Aggies and I’m glad you liked the post. Bonfire is such an incredibly special tradition at A&M.


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