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June 28, 2004
Note on privacy
for this website

1999 in Retrospect

1999 was a year of many feelings...from pride to pleasure to pain.  Here's some of the pictures from the things you remember....in roughly chronological order...

Main 1999 Page Dustbowl Bonfire Collapse EMS Conference

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Bonfire Stack Collapse, November 18, 1999

musterbugle.gif (25755 bytes) Today the Twelfth Man does not stand,
He is on his knees,
And he prays,
And he weeps.
Aggies are a family,
And the family has sustained death.

Our prayers are with the victims, families, friends,
EMS and Fire personnel and Ags everywhere

Poem to TAMECT/TAMUEMS by family of fallen Aggie

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Missing Man formation flyby during Texas game
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(Click for REALLY Hi-Res Version 269K)
A little something you might not know about the missing-man fly-over of Air Force F-16s at the A&M-UT game in November. A lot of people were wondering why the 12 students who died in the Aggie bonfire collapse were honored with a fly-over.  Such formations are usually reserved for special occasions, as when an elected official dies.  Reportedly, Senator Phil Gramm, a former professor at A&M, called up the Air Force and asked, "Would I receive a fly-by in my honor at the time of my death?" The officer said, "yes."  Gramm replied, "Well, I want to use mine for those 12 kids."  They got the fly-over.
PDF Files from Various News Service
Story (USA Today) Story (BCS Eagle) Unity Ceremony Unity Ceremony
Aggie Spirit Game Day Report Game Day Report Post Game (LA Times - GREAT!)

When the stack fell on November 18, TAMECT and TAMUEMS entered a whole new arena.  When they asked one of our former Chiefs for assistance, we as a group responded with six people on the scene within a couple of hours, and a large contingent across the state and nation on standby.  These emails attempt to capture some of the emotions and reality surrounding our friends as they went to help our "team".  new_ani.gif (8017 bytes)(Ambulance Pics below)
To Jim, Matt, and all the other Dustbowl members who could actually be there when the rest could not...a heartfelt thanks. Although it must have been hard to be there (I'll wisely admit that I can't imagine...), it was hard to be away and not there beside you. Phil Nessler put it best when he said that those were our grandchildren down there hurting...

An eerie, but appropriate note: The cover of the Association of Former Students magazine, the Texas Aggie, that came today:
       - a picture of bonfire, standing tall
       - a caption: "The presence of the Aggie network"

'Nuff said.

Thanks for standing tall for all of us. You know you weren't alone, because we were all there with you, every step.

Mike McNeill '85
----- Original Message -----
Sent: Saturday, November 20, 1999 4:40 PM
Subject: aggies together

i am writing this letter in the back of an ambulance on the way back to austin. i just spent the last 24 hours on the campus of texas a&m university as part of a relief team sent by austin ems. we were not sent to work the actual incident at bonfire, but were sent to cover ems services for the campus so that the TAMU EMS service could have some time to regroup/recover from this tragedy. what i am trying to do now is put in writing some of the feelings and emotions that are running through me right now. i think that i will try and put it as it happened.

when i got the first phone call thursday morning at 0645, i was concerned but not overwhelmed. at that time, the numbers were significant but small. but as the day progressed and the information started to show the true magnitude of the event, my concern turned to shock and disbelief. my rational self, guided by twenty years of training in emergency services was telling me that everything was being done as fast as it could be done. my heart was screaming--why cant they hurry up....surely they can move faster. i was hopeful when i heard that the listening devices had picked up sounds of life. i was devastated when the sounds were lost. i felt that i had to do something to help, anything. i began to make contacts with the "dustbowlers" ( a group of former aggie ems people that keep in touch via email and other means ). throughout the afternoon, we talked, planned and made arrangements for assistance. at 6pm thursday night, i received word that a&m would be accepting an offer of assistance from us here at austin ems.   my excitement at being able to finally take a role in giving back to the university was temporarily crushed when i was informed that my participation was not going to be allowed. however, after several more phone calls, i was put on the team of three that was sent. 

trying to explain to folks why this was important to me was difficult. emotions kept getting in the way. people around me were puzzled as to why i felt so strongly....at that time, it was hard to calmly explain it. even now, many will never truly understand what was driving me because i still find it hard to put into words. it was important that i be able to be there. it was important that assistance to the university come from aggies. i know that many offers were coming from all over the state, but to me and others, we needed to be able to show that formers were tied to the university and that the former students were there to help. (not very clear, but hard for me to express)

by the time we arrived in bryan at 11pm, we knew that there had been 9 fatalities...still unsure how many more were trapped. multiple critical injuries at the hospitals. getting to sleep was not easy. thoughts kept me awake. thoughts of the families and how they were. thoughts of the injured....prayers for all. how were the emergency services personnel. finally, morning came and we were able to get information from some of the on-scene personnel. the talk was subdued, even being able to see friends from 20yrs ago did not raise the mood.

when we arrived at the university, we were greeted by several of the ems personnel. we were immediately made to feel welcome.  smiles on their faces, sadness in their eyes. trying to stay positive in outlook. despite the ordeal of the previous 30 hours, their initial concerns were that we were taken care of. in the face of disaster, they were the perfect hosts. we were there in support of their service, they went out of the way to make our stay comfortable. i only can hope and pray that i would act the same if the roles were reversed.

during our time on campus, i was struck by how quiet it was. very few people were out. i dont know if they had left the campus, if they were staying inside. whether they were at church or at the site. but areas that are normally high population areas were deserted. those people that were out were quiet. small groups walked, talking quietly if at all. lots of people did nothing but hug or hold each other. aggies supporting aggies. in the msc, giant cards were being signed to send to the injured, to the families of the aggies lost. again, quiet. there were several mobile blood bank vehicles on campus. lines of students and others there to donate blood. lines were there all day. aggies giving for aggies in trouble.

we were sitting outside rudder tower while university personnel were involved in a critical incident stress debriefing. while there, a student walked up to us and thanked us for being there. she explained that her cousin was one of those aggies killed in the accident.  all she could say was that our presence was important to her and that is was appreciated by many. i was moved to tears then, as i am now in writing it.

as the day progressed, we encountered more of the university ems personnel. without exception, they were first concerned with our comfort or with thanking us for being there. without exception, we were seeing more evidence of the impact that was being felt. and without exception, i witnessed firsthand the power of aggies being there for their brother and sister aggies. words of comfort, a look, a touch, a hug, a cry. the healing was beginning. although i know the process will be long and difficult, i also know that it will happen.

at 10pm, we learned that another student had died from the injuries. this one was especially hard to take for me, as this was one that i saw on the front page of the newspaper. he had been conscious during the rescue. i did not know him, did not participate in the rescue or treatment, but this was one that hit me hard for some reason. everyone in the room was quiet when one of the folks with me from austin commented that he was number 12--the twelth man. i got cold, goosebumps on my arms. for me, this will forever change my perception of the 12th man.

today as we were leaving the campus, we first stopped to take pictures of the a&m ambulance next to the austin ems ambulance in front of the reed arena. it was hard for me to say good bye to our hosts, our friends. i cannot say that our presence made any difference in the long run. i cannot say that we had any impact on the aggies that we met. i can say that i have been impacted. i will always remember the way that aggie students stood up to a disastrous event. i can say that i have never been prouder to be an aggie.   the way that the aggie community--current and former students, faculty and family--has come together shows something that i have been told since i was growing up: we are a family. and this family has something special, something that there is nowhere else: the spirit of aggieland.

i am home now...i am still thinking about all that has transpired in the last 60 hours. i think that it will take a lot longer to figure it out. my thoughts and prayers are with all involved and all those that are watching.

take care, peace, and gig'em

jim persons '78
charter president, TAMECT

Subject: Bonfire tragedy
Date: Sat, 20 Nov 1999 03:18:44 -0800 (PST)
From: Park Knight <pck5736@yahoo.com>
Reply-To: sparky50@bigfoot.com

I am sending this out to everyone in the Former Aggie Medic family that I have an address for and asking that you please help me by sending it on to everyone you know of.
Dave, I know you told Matt to order me to get some sleep. Just ignore the above time stamp and everything will be fine. Could you also pass this on to everyone that you have been networking with. I was standing at stack when this unthinkable tragedy occurred. I got off work at 0200 hours and decided to go check on things at stack. I went to the Ryder truck that we now use to house the medics and they were all watching a movie. I walked out to stack and was standing near the North East perimeter pole. At this point everything was normal. In fact I remember thinking that everything was right with the world. I turned my back from the stack intending to walk back to the medic truck when I heard a sound that we have all heard the night that bonfire burns. It was the sound of stack falling. In a matter of seconds we were all changed forever. I was stunned and am still not sure what took over because my brain is still telling me that it was not and is not real.

The following response from the Care Team and TAMUEMS was outstanding. I do not know how to put it in words.  God I love those kids. Then came the response from the other local services. Remember them? You would not believe how well everyone worked together. From everything I observed, all and I mean all attitudes were checked at the door. Then came the response from the world, including all of you. I just wanted to thank all of you for your help, offers, support, calls and prayers. We are all trying to heal. What all of you have done for our current Care Team and EMS folks has no measure. I know all of you must be very frustrated. Let me give you some feed back. The kids are all doing the best they can with this and now know that all of you are out there supporting them as they work through the issues they have encountered. This in itself was a major help. I love all of you too.  Always have and always will.

On a personal note try to imagine after two strait days of not stopping (If my Mother ask you, I have been telling her I got a few hours sleep in there somewhere.) I walked into dispatch and Matt Menger was sitting there working the phones like he had never left. He told me to go away for a while and get some distance. I lied and told him I was planning to go to my parents house for a day or so. Then I noticed that Matt (along with the Folks from the Austin crew that were from before my time) started looking after our kids for me. For the record at 1705 hours on 11/19/99 Matt logged on as me and I actually did go to my parents house near Houston. I got a few hours sleep and was able to keep some food down. For your future reference apple pie seems to be a safe post trauma stress food. Apparently while I slept the 12th Aggie died in hospital. Matt Menger along with the Austin crew representing all of you was there for our Medic that had treated this 12th Aggie and needed someone. God bless all of you and please keep the faith for us during this time.

Park "Sparky" Knight
TAMUEMS/TAMECT Faculty Advisory and UPD Officer

Subject: [dustbowl] Yell Practice/Game
Date: Sat, 27 Nov 1999 12:05:50 -0600
From: John & Stacey Frey <freyguys@dialaccess.com>

Stacey and I had the pleasure of working the yell practice on Thursday night and the game on Friday. Except for the 4 hours of sleep in between, it was great to be a part of the ceremonies. My personal estimate was 60,000 at yell practice and (according to A&M) 86,123 at the game.

I really think the A&M ECT and EMS teams got a much better feel for the Dustbowl concept and the special nature of being Aggies.

Dr. Ellerbe wins the award for the longest day on Friday. He met Stacey and I at 05:30 after driving 1.5 hours to our place and he didn't get back until 20:00. We did enjoy working in the aid stations and watching the game (and getting wind-burn). Stacey and I worked "the Zone" and Steve E. worked (any guesses......) 3rd deck parents side. (Ed. note: consistency for the gray-haired guy...)

When the announcer asked for silence for the final block-T formation, the stadium was so quiet that you could hear the flags fluttering at the tops of the third deck.

The ending to the game was just icing on the cake for the day! Whoop!

OH yea, Tom's was crowded but good and we ate with no blood shed (Mike and David, this is a lesson to you!).

All in all, a GOOD day.

John Frey, '84?

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TAMUEMS & Austin EMS units both on duty at A&M after bonfire
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Duty Units for the Candlelight Vigil and Yell Practice,
from Montgomery County, Rice Univeristy, and TAMUEMS
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Austin EMS Unit parked on-duty at A.P. Beutel Health Center
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Email Thread re: Tim Kerlee, 12th Man

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Bonfire Investigation Commission Report

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2/4/2002 Statement from TAMU President:  No Bonfire 2002 (pdf)

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If you look at nothing else, read the email traffic on the Dustbowl listserve

Old links for articles (which may or may not still be available)

  AggieDaily Online Info(U)    The Battallion Online(U)
Austin American Stateman
(U)  B-CS Eagle(U)
(U = updated 5/2003)

"The Last Corps Trip"

2004 mike.a.mcneill@bigfoot.com
Last edited: Monday, June 28, 2004