Bill Maddox ’69
Silver Taps is one of the most sacred and solemn traditions at Texas A&M University, which constitutes the student body’s final tribute paid to a fellow Aggie, who, at the time of his or her death, was enrolled in classes at Texas A&M. Silver Taps, which by some accounts dates back to 1898 and the death of beloved President Lawrence Sullivan Ross, is a beautiful and moving tradition that exemplifies the Aggie Spirit.
Probably the most moving and poignant description of this sacred tradition was written by a Texas Aggie freshman, who attended Silver Taps in October of 1968. In a letter to his parents, he wrote:
“Dear Mom & Dad,
Right now it’s 11:00 and Call to Quarters is over. I should be in bed, but there’s something I have to tell you both first. I’m sitting at my desk with tears in my eyes and thinking more about life, itself, than I ever have before. I’m not crying because of all the hell I’m going through – but rather because I’ve experienced tonight what A&M is all about.
Mother and Dad, we’re one big family here and now I know what it means to be an Aggie. Tonight was Silver Taps. In case you don’t know what that is, I’m going to tell you and you’ve got to listen. Any time a student here loses his life – no matter how – on an assigned date soon afterwards we have what you call Silver Taps. Everyone puts on civilian clothes and goes to the quad in front of the Administrative building and stands around a flagpole on which all the names of students from A&M who died while attending school here are listed.
No one says a word from 7:30 at night until the next day. All is quiet & all the lights on campus are turned off. You have to put blankets up over windows & even the coke machines are covered. The whole campus is a blanket of Darkness. Then at 10:30, while everyone is at the Quad, a firing team fires a 21-gun salute in honor of those who died and then buglers play Taps and it’s over.
Tonight, I experienced one of the most solemn feelings I’ve ever had and feel so good inside. Mom, Dad, it was just like God, Himself, was there with us.
I guess you’re wishing I would grow up and quit carrying on like this over Silver Taps – but it was so, hell I can’t even tell you how it was, there’s nothing else like it. Well I’ve got to go now, it’s late & I need the sleep. Ya’ll be careful and I love you both.
Three weeks after Donald Coward ‘72 wrote this letter to his parents, Silver Taps was held again. This time for Coward and two of his fellow Aggies from Company C-1, John Groves ’69 and George Reynolds ’72, who were all killed in a Denton County automobile accident.
Before his tragic death, Donald Coward had captured the essence of Silver Taps. Texas A&M is the only university in the world that honors their students in this way; it is a unifying event that allows students, families and friends to come together as one in the Aggie Family to share with one another the unity and spirit of Aggieland and to act as one in bidding their fellow Aggies “farewell.”