Grassroots Commentary

Texas A&M's Wall of Glory

By Roy Exum · Jul. 9, 2012

The overwhelming majority of the estimated 750 Texas A&M college students, all wearing maroon tee shirts, neither knew nor had ever even heard of Lt. Col. Roy Lin Tisdale when they reverently gathered outside the perimeter of Central Baptist Church in College Station on Thursday. All that mattered was that the highly-decorated Army officer was an Aggie and, in a final act, would be treated like a noble Aggie.

As we have learned throughout history, from the fabled “Home of the 12th Man” in the football stadium to the seven Congressional Medal of Honor winners during World War II, Texas A&M has a special aura about it. Last Thursday, after word came that the infamous Westboro Baptist Church would come from Kansas to scurrilously picket Lt. Col Tisdale's funeral, it was as if the old Corps of Cadets' Reveille bugler himself had sounded the call.

About two hours before the funeral services were to begin, the kids wearing their school's colors started showing up by the dozens. From everywhere they came. One wore a maroon shirt that boldly said in white block letters, “Bring It.” Another student, his dreadlocks cut respectfully short, wore a shirt that more clearly defined the moment: “None Of Us Are As Strong As All Of Us.”

Silently and very quietly, this despite the broiling Texas sun, the students formed a long chain around the church property. They linked their elbows and vowed – with what will now be added to the university's glamorous lore as “The A&M Wall” – that no hateful protesters from Westboro Baptist Church would get any closer to the church or to the university's burial cemetery, the Aggie Field of Honor.

Our nation had already suffered one tragedy. Lt. Col. Tisdale, who was the commander of the 525th Brigade Special Troops Battalion, was shot and immediately killed at Fort Bragg on June 28 by an enlisted soldier from Kansas who had been accused of stealing a $2,000 tool box. If found guilty, the soldier would have been dishonorably discharged so, instead, he shot his respected commanding officer before turning the weapon on himself. He later died as well.

Roy Tisdale grew up on a ranch in Alvin, Texas, where he actively rodeoed and was remembered by his agriculture teacher as being on the leadership team and the livestock judging team. “If there was something going on, Roy was there. There was nothing he couldn't achieve, nothing he wouldn't do for anybody.”

At A&M he was an Aggie through and through. Upon graduation he was commissioned an officer and, in the years that followed, he did multiple tours defending the United States in Iraq and Afghanistan, was awarded the Bronze Star, the Purple Heart, Meritorious Service, Army Commendation Medal and numerous other distinctions.

The Westboro Baptist Church, on the other hand, has been condemned by the Anti-Defamation League as “a homophobic and ant-Semitic hate group.” It has picketed military funerals in all 50 states because it leaders “believe that God punishes soldiers because of America's tolerance to gays.” (Please note: Westboro is not affiliated with any organized Baptist denominations and has been repeated called down by churches and synagogues universally.)

Texas A&M, which will join Missouri as the newest members of the Southeastern Conference this fall, was described perfectly not long ago by Prof. John Hoyle (who once headed the Athletic Committee): “We believe the glass is half-full. We don't engage in stinkin' thinkin'. Aggies turn disappointment and failure into success. We learn that. Writer Mitch Albom said of us, 'we are in love with hope.' And that's true.”

Ryan Slezia, a promising Aggie now in law school, got wind of Westboro's plans and is credited with immediately sounding the alarm on Facebook. “In response to their signs of hate, we will wear maroon. In response to their mob anger, we will form a line, arm in arm. This is a silent vigil – a manifestation of our solidarity,” he wrote.

Lilly McAlister, one of the students standing with her elbows locked to those of either side, said in a hushed voice. “We are here for the family. We are positioned with our backs to them. Everyone has been told there's no chanting, no singing, no yelling anything back.” And, understandably, there was little if any talking. It was in reverence for a heroic soldier and Aggie.

Nobody is quite sure if Westboro came or not but it was easy to understand why they wouldn't dare show their faces – or get within 10 miles of College Station – if they did. “I've never seen anything like it,” said one Army officer who served with Col. Tisdale. “The line stretched all the way to the cemetery. People were waving flags, placing their hands over their hearts. I've fought in wars but I got goose bumps on top of goose bumps.”

Hundreds wept openly during the processional from the church to the Field of Honor. Again, there was no protest of any kind but a popular rumor was that not too far away there was instead a huge posse of leather-tough Texas Rangers (not the baseball kind) who were believed to have a strong affection for God, the United States military and A&M's Aggies – in that order.

Lt. Col. Steven Ruth, a classmate of Roy Tisdale's at A&M and a lifelong friend, was so overcome by the emotional outpouring that he even asked one attractive lady wearing a maroon tee shirt – who he thought might be close to his age – if she had ever known Roy Tisdale. “He's the son of Aggieland, sir. There are no strangers on this road.”

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32 Comments

Grog in Beale AFB said:

Just a friendly FYI: Medal of Honor recipients EARNED their Medals. They were not "won" which is an easy, and understandalbe mis-nomer. However, very important difference.
Shalom, Gig'em,
GROG!!!

Monday, July 9, 2012 at 1:37 PM

Kathy in West Texas said:

What those Aggies did makes me even prouder to be a Texan. I hope they inspire people to do that everywhere and keep Westboro away from military funerals.

Monday, July 9, 2012 at 2:22 PM

tony in topeka replied:

all you maroon dummies did was draw more attention to the message of WBC God is killing your finest and best for gay marrage!

Monday, July 9, 2012 at 5:32 PM

Al in WV replied:

It's better to keep your mouth shut and let one to think you are a fool than to open it and remove all doubt.

Monday, July 9, 2012 at 7:17 PM

David Thompson in Texas A&M, '69 replied:

Thank you, Al. I was going to say something less charitable.

Monday, July 9, 2012 at 11:35 PM

J Mathews in Permian Basin replied:

Ditto. Best I say no more.

Thursday, July 12, 2012 at 6:27 PM

Debbie Miller in San Antonio, TX replied:

AMEN!! One of the greates quotes ever--because it is so true. My son is an Aggie, have always been so proud he is, and this is only one of many of the reasons why.

Thursday, July 12, 2012 at 11:03 AM

Joanna in Llano, Texas replied:

This Texas 'Tea' sip agrees. Aggies just do somethings very well. Thanks.

Saturday, July 14, 2012 at 4:59 PM

David Grant in KANSAS CITY replied:

Great job Texas A & M, these nuts from Topeka are just a bunch of fools. There is only two things good that ever came out of Topeka Kansas anyway. I-35 south and I-70 east. And Tony obviously your a fool just like Freddie boy and his cult.

Tuesday, July 10, 2012 at 12:20 AM

Philippe in California said:

That sounds to me a basis for a new Facebook group: The Westboro chain. We link arms and turn our backs to the haters, wherever they may dare to appear.

Monday, July 9, 2012 at 4:27 PM

tony in topeka replied:

yes do it. the more people the better , keep spreading the core message. Fags Doom Nations.

Monday, July 9, 2012 at 5:33 PM

David Thompson in Texas A&M, '69 replied:

Tony, I assume that it's never crossed your mind, if you have one, that one can oppose the odious Westboro thugs without opposing gays. Sad.

Monday, July 9, 2012 at 11:39 PM

Anthony in CO replied:

Tony, your an idiot. Bottom line. You and your idiotic WBC need a serious wake up call. As far as the Aggie students, my hat goes off to you young people. It's nice to know that people still care in this hateful world. Thank you.

Tuesday, July 10, 2012 at 2:49 AM

Christina in Ohio said:

What an amazing group of people! It mus have been an awesome thing to witness that maroon chain. HOOAH! It is a shame there are cults like WBC out there who hate what is pure and good in our country.

Monday, July 9, 2012 at 6:25 PM

Al in WV replied:

I agree Christine

Monday, July 9, 2012 at 7:21 PM

David Thompson in Texas A&M, '69 said:

Thank you, Mr. Exum and Pat Post. Somehow, I don't expect to see this on the network news.

Monday, July 9, 2012 at 11:42 PM

Payton '99 in Houston replied:

As you know Mr. Thompson, Aggies don't do things like this for notoriety. We do it because it is the right thing to do. It makes me proud to be an Aggie from the great state of Texas.

Tuesday, July 10, 2012 at 9:15 AM

Kathy in West Texas replied:

it's there. Nor really big, but it's getting around.

Tuesday, July 10, 2012 at 12:05 PM

David Grant in KANSAS CITY said:

One day some one from the Phelps clan will die, and I won't pray from them, and i won't shed a tear for them, and I won't protest them, but I sure will have a good laugh that day.

Tuesday, July 10, 2012 at 12:25 AM

Matt in Washington, D.C. said:

Tony, has grandpa fred been beating you too? The sign that your group is a weak, short-lived cult is that you have to rely on the actions of heroes and mainstreamers to draw any attention to your message. To me, the saddest part of this is you view God as a hate monger. God is Love, Tony, not doom and death. I hope you stop drinking the kool aid soon enough to realize this Truth.

Tuesday, July 10, 2012 at 1:06 AM

Darkwater in Texas in Oregon said:

A great story, with three lines: a great officer with his grieving family, a dispicable cult, & the wonderful people of Texas A&M. I took a similar tack to you on my post:

http://plbirnamwood.blogspot.com/2012/07/texas-maroon-wall-thwarts-westboro.html

Tuesday, July 10, 2012 at 1:22 AM

Paul Elgin ('86) in McLean, Virginia said:

AWESOME display by the students and friends/alumni. I was so proud when I saw it on cable news Saturday morning. It's funny that so many people will be moved by this action vs the actions of the other group. Hopefully that message will resonate with the main-stream media. Our hearts and condolences go out to LtCol Tisdale's family.

Tuesday, July 10, 2012 at 8:07 AM

TC in Texas said:

I and my family were there as part of the maroon wall. We had nothing but respect for the family, which is why we were there. When LTC Tisdale's brother came out to address us, he was choked with emotion, and thankful for the Aggie family with our show of support. WBC was not mentioned, and should never be.

GIG 'EM! Texas A&M Class of '86.

Tuesday, July 10, 2012 at 9:51 AM

Mary in Missouri said:

These folks from WBC are forgetting a very important lesson from Christ
"Let he who is without sin cast the first stone"
and Thank you Aggies you have renew my faith in this country when our young folks stand up in mass.

Tuesday, July 10, 2012 at 11:31 AM

Crissy in Springfield,MO replied:

Mary you are so right. True Christians will show respect and not judge. Thank you to all the students who were there for the family's time of sorrow.

Saturday, July 28, 2012 at 6:18 PM

Kathy in West Texas said:

I just did a search for WBC and found the creeps' website where they have their 'picket schedule'. All we have to do is spread the word to the folks they're about to visit and we can make walls everywhere.

Their next stop is today at the Kauffman Stadium in Kansas City, Mo at 3:30. People, let's get the word out!

Tuesday, July 10, 2012 at 12:04 PM

Greg in Elgin, Tx said:

Tony, I will pray for your soul, because where y'all are going, there is no ice water. Gig 'Em!

Wednesday, July 11, 2012 at 11:45 PM

Bryan, Class of '70 in Galveston County said:

And Jesus said "Let him who is without sin throw the first stone."

Tony, I'm glad that everybody at WBC is perfect. Y'all judge others so quickly. Your time will come, son, it will come.

Thursday, July 12, 2012 at 7:40 AM

David in Fort Bragg, NC said:

So let me get this straight: Westboro has a problem with gay marriage, but they have no problem committing incest (inbreeding is the only possible way that those idiots can procreate)?

Thursday, July 12, 2012 at 8:10 AM