On Nov. 18, 1999, tragedy struck Aggieland when the annual Bonfire stack collapsed, killing 11 current students and one former. For just over two decades, Aggies from all corners of the world have come together on the anniversary of the tragedy to remember the twelve that were lost.
This year, for the 23rd anniversary, additional memorial efforts were made to honor the fallen. For the first time ever at Midnight Yell, Parsons Mounted Cavalry brought two additional cannons to Kyle Field for a special 12-shot volley demonstration.
“Due to this year’s Bonfire Remembrance Ceremony falling on the same night as Midnight Yell, the Texas A&M Traditions Council proposed we make a special addition to Midnight Yell. Working with Traditions Council and the Yell Leaders, we decided that Parsons Mounted Cavalry would perform a 12-shot volley from two of our artillery pieces in honor of the twelve victims. This is the first artillery commemoration of the tragedy since November 25, 1999, when the victims were first honored,” Luke Jenkins ‘23, Commanding Officer of Parsons Mounted Cavalry, said.
As Parsons Mounted Cavalry prepared for these special efforts, Cole Swinnea ‘23, PMC’s Section Chief, said that it reminded him of the strength of the Aggie family.
“Being able to honor the twelve victims, even after 23 years, embodies what it means to be an Aggie and a part of the Aggie family. Even though they are no longer with us, their spirit and what they did for Texas A&M still remains in our hearts and minds. No university in the nation does something like this to honor fallen students, and I feel honored to attend a school that takes such pride in preserving traditions like bonfire remembrance and historic sites like the Bonfire Memorial. It humbles me to be able to be a part of something so great.”
Of the victims, two-thirds were members of the Corps of Cadets, an organization that had been deeply embedded in the building of Bonfire since its start. As he reflected on the stories of the fallen, Swinnea said there is one name in particular that stands out to him.
“One of the victims of the Bonfire stack collapse was Christopher Lee Heard ’03. He passed away as a freshman in Company K-2, the same outfit that I am from. He attended high school at the Marine Military Academy in Harlingen, Texas, which is also my hometown,” Swinnea said. “These small similarities have made me realize that life can be taken away at any moment in time, even as a freshman in the Corps, so you should really cherish those around you and value your interactions and time spent with them.”
Though 23 years have passed, the memory of the 12 victims has not faded for the Texas A&M community.
“Bonfire is a somber tradition. However, we should remember the fallen for who they were as people and what they stood for while attending this university. We should rejoice that we were able to know them as people, to know them through their stories and life experiences. It’s important to remember and commemorate past Aggies for what they did for the university during their time here, no matter how long ago it was. Once you become an Aggie, you join a family whose bonds can’t be broken,” Jenkins said.
No matter how many years have passed, Aggies of the past, present and future will come together to remember the twelve young lives that were lost on Nov. 18, 1999. Their embodiment of the Aggie Spirit lives on within each of us, and is something that Texas A&M and the Corps of Cadets will strive to remember for many generations to come.
In memory of:
Miranda Denise Adams ‘02, Christopher D. Breen ‘96, Michael Stephen Ebanks ‘03, Jeremy Richard Frampton ‘99, Jamie Lynn Hand ‘03, Christopher Lee Heard ‘03, Timothy Doran Kerlee, Jr ‘03, Lucas John Kimmel ‘03, Bryan A. McClain ‘02, Chad A. Powell ‘03, Jerry Don Self ‘01, Nathan Scott West ‘02.
Story by: Robin Nelson '22