Changing with time
Former Batt editor, commandant’s staff discuss evolution of practices
By Abigail Ochoa & Angel Franco @AbigailOchoa88 & @angelmadison_
As times change and evolve, so do many traditions. Some of what was once acceptable and popular is no longer. The Corps of Cadets is no exception and has seen some of its traditions change, evolve or be completely removed.
While some changes were due to generational shifts, some posed a threat to cadets’ safety.
One of these traditions is the Flight of the Great Pumpkin. This tradition takes place in October around the time of Halloween. Today, cadets carry a giant pumpkin and take turns smashing the pumpkin on the ground. However, this wasn’t always the case said Angelique Gammon, instructional assistant professor of communication and Class of 1981.
“[The Corps] would put pumpkins over the heads of freshmen and seniors with ax handles would try to bash them off,” Gammon said.
Gammon wrote an editorial about the Flight of the Great Pumpkin while she was the editor-in-chief of The Battalion in the fall of 1981. In the editorial, she described the Flight of the Great Pumpkin as something straight out of a Hollywood film set.
“At best, this sounds like the plot to a B-grade horror flick; at worst it sounds like a pseudo-sadistic fraternity stunt,” Gammon wrote in the editorial.
Gammon’s strong opinion on the Flight of the Great Pumpkin didn’t go unnoticed. In fact, members of Company C-2 responded to Gammon’s editorial. Gerald Smith, Class of 1982 and the commanding officer of Company C-2 at the time, wrote a letter directed to her.
“I believe that you wrote an editorial about a subject on which you have very little knowledge and a great deal of misinformation,” the letter says. “If you did in fact investigate our Halloween ritual at all, you either choose to ignore the facts or you did not care to publish the whole story.
“In either case, it appears that you used our Halloween activity as a basis for taking a cheap shot at the Corps of Cadets.”
While she found it to be a form of hazing, her father, T.R. Copeland, who was in the Corps before enlisting to the Marines, laughed after reading her editorial because he didn’t see it that way.
“You have a whole history here, depending on the generation,” Gammon said. “But I also think it’s relevant that in 1982, at a time when institutions were starting to recognize things like hazing, harassment, etcetera, we had an event on campus that we as a news organization would go cover and it clearly constituted — if not hazing — a really stupid idea.”
While she received much backlash for the editorial — most notably from the Aggie Band — and was called “anti-Corps” and a “2%er,” Gammon said it has more to do with her views on consent than her views on the organization.
“Part of hazing is the consent to go through the right of passage,” Gammon said. “When you join the Corps, you know as a freshman your hair is going to be millimeters shorter than the seniors, you know that you wear ugly shoes instead of cool boots — you have fully consented to go through that part of the right of passage to enter the Corps as a freshman. Things that are outside of your control, endanger you or demean you constitute hazing.”
One tradition that is a common right of passage for freshmen is square meals. This practice was recently removed from the Corps, but it used to be known as the specific way freshman cadets ate their meals.
Cadets would first ask the highest ranking Corps member at the table for permission to sit down, then the cadets would sit at the edge of their seats at attention. Once the cadet started eating, they would have to use their right hand and eat in a square motion while looking forward and not at their plate.
Assistant Commandant for Discipline Col. Gary Beaty, and assistant Commandant for Operations and Training Col. Glenn Starnes said neither of them had experienced square meals during their time in the Corps and questioned its usefulness when they returned to Texas A&M.
“In 26 years of the Army, I never once had to eat a square meal,” Beaty said.
Starnes said many of what people think are Corps traditions are not necessarily worthy of that label.
“Traditions of this school are Silver Taps, Muster, the 12th Man, Midnight Yell,” Starnes said. “Traditions that some people think [are traditions], are not traditions. They are Aggie lore — ‘The things that we did when we were here, why don’t you get to do those things?’”
Beaty said that while stories that are passed down from generations are a big part of people’s perceptions of the Corps, societal changes are just as important to keep in mind.
“Sometimes it’s like fishing stories,” Beaty said. “When it’s told over time, you get further away from the actual event. ... The fish grows a little bit bigger every time you tell it. Next thing you know, my fish is big when it was a little bait-size fish. There’s some of that that’s living in the glory days. There are just things that you can’t do now that you could do 50 years ago or 60 years ago.”