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Over There in the Air: The Fightin’ Texas Aggies in World War I, 1917–1918

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Over There in the Air: The Fightin’ Texas Aggies in World War I, 1917–1918 by John A. Adams Jr. Texas A&M University Press, 2020, 129 pp.   

John A. Adams is a multibook author, having released more than 12 books, including those focused on the State of Texas, Texas A&M University, and others. He is a 1973 Texas A&M graduate. 

Over There in the Air is a concise, slim history book that looks back on the impact of World War I on Texas A&M University and its Corp of Cadets student body. The book is written in five short chapters: The Road to War, Call to Arms, Training: Wooden Sky Coffins, Over There: Hun in the Sun, and Coming Home: Postwar Aggieland. Adams includes an Appendix Roster, Aggies in the Air Service, a Note section, an extensive bibliography, and concludes with an index. The book fits into the category of Texas and Aggie History, adding immeasurably to the genre.  

As the chapter titles suggest, the author establishes the direction of his book—beginning with the war, followed by the Texas A&M University changes, and finally the Corp of Cadets men, their service, and flying machines,  

The impact of World War I on the State of Texas was almost zero before the war but ended with more than 190,000 service men and establishing more than 10 airfields. In March 1917, even before the declaration of war, the university’s College Board of Directors passed a resolution rendering all facilities, research, and instructional facilities to the federal government. The Texas A&M campus changed spectacularly. Although there were several other universities in the US selected to train personnel, the dramatic change that occurred at Texas A&M during the World War I time period were unprecedented. The campus became a full-fledged training site for mechanics, signals and communications, meteorology, and various other pursuits for military applications. In all, more than 4,000 Army and cadet personnel were trained during 1917–18.  

Directly in the war, more than 2,300 Texas A&M students (Aggies) heeded the call to serve “Over There.” Even professors, staff members, and coaches enlisted to do their part in the conflict. Many Aggies served in distinguished roles such as Maj Edward B. Cushing (’80)[no parenthesis]. Major Cushing enlisted at age 56 and was eventually charged with all logistical operations and transportation for the American Expeditionary Force in France. Other gallant men gave their lives and are memorialized on airfields and buildings near the A&M campus. All told, 11 Aggies earned the Distinguished Service Cross, and five were awarded the Navy Cross. Additionally, many Aggies were awarded Silver Stars, then a citation star, for their gallant efforts. More than 60 Aggies gave their lives, and 54 are memorialized on campus. 

In the total number of Aggies serving in the war, the author further narrows the narrative to those in the aviation aervices. There were more than 250 Aggies serving as pilots or in associated duties. Their stories, memories, and service are brought forth to the reader to once again experience history. The aircraft flown, the places they served, and the gallant overall service they performed is entwined throughout the book. 

It is a well-written, supported work on the striking changes that occurred at Texas A&M during a world conflict. The university faculty, staff, and cadets readily accepted the call to arms by the president. They responded by offering “their” university as a place to train and educate men to serve their country.  

If there is a limitation to this book, it would be the narrow focus on these individuals serving in World War I. But then again, it is a story well worth reading. Any information of our forefathers is welcome. 

As an Aggie graduate, class of ’79, I recommend this book to those who enjoy military history and especially to Texas A&M students and graduates. Gig ‘Em! 

To those that question a book on such a narrow segment of World War I involvement, it is necessary to provide some background on this university. 

Texas A&M, a university founded under the Morrill Act of 1862, emphasized agriculture and mechanical arts in its formative years. The institution included military training that Texas A&M undertook completely by establishing the Corp of Cadets in 1876. The student body, then about 900, was all male and enrolled in the Corp. Today, its student body is co-ed and averages 69,000 students with 2,300 enrolled in the Corp. All cadets, male and female, are involved in military training as well as education in their chosen field. Interestingly, the Corp of Cadets’ uniform today is the result of the US Army’s use of the university. Today, outside the service academies, Texas A&M has the highest number of commissioned officers in the military. 

Like many universities today, Texas A&M is a special place where bonds are formed and kept throughout the years. “Muster” is one of the great traditions of Aggies everywhere. This is an old military term that means assembly or roll call of troops. Texas A&M, as a military college in its early formation, used muster to assemble the Corp. Muster, in the 1880’s, celebrated the 1836 Battle of San Jacinto. The battle created Texas and encompassed almost one-third of our present United States.  

Since then, Aggie Musters have faithfully taken place every year on 21 April and occur anywhere—even during wartime. Adams records a Muster during World War I celebrated by 11 Aggies in France on 10 November 1918. Two famous Musters occurred on 21 April 1942 and 21 April 1946 during and after World War II, when Aggies respectfully gathered to remember those who served during the siege of Corregidor Island, Philippines. Musters continue to this day. 

Maj James A. Boyless, USAF, Retired, PhD 

The views expressed in the book review are those of the author(s) and do not reflect the official policy or position of the US government or the Department of Defense.
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