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Honoring Aggies, others who died serving in our military

Honoring Aggies, others who died serving in our military

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Texas Aggies have fought — and many have died — in every American war since Texas A&M was founded in 1876. They have left a remarkable record of service and sacrifice.

For instance, in World War II, 854 Aggies died protecting our nation and defending the values we cherish.

Seven of those Aggies earned the Medal of Honor, the nation’s highest military honor for bravery. An eighth Aggie was awarded the Medal of Honor for his bravery in Vietnam. Five of the eight received their medal posthumously.

On this Memorial Day weekend, it is right that we remember their courage. Information for each recipient is from a story by Bec Morris, ‘23, released this month by the Texas A&M Foundation:

Lloyd “Pete” H. Hughes Jr., ’43

The first Aggie to receive a Medal of Honor was Lloyd “Pete” Hughes, ’43. Enlisting in the Army Air Forces prior to his graduation from Texas A&M, Hughes served as a pilot for the 564th Heavy Bombardment Squadron in World War II.

During a low altitude bombing run on Aug. 1, 1943, Hughes’ plane was struck by German antiaircraft fire, causing a gasoline leak on the left wing. Despite the fuel spewing from the craft, Hughes and his crew continued to drop their bombs on the target, emerging from the flames with the left wing alight. While trying to land, the wing tore off, resulting in a crash that killed Hughes and five of his crew, leaving two to die from injuries and two more to be captured.

For continuing the mission despite the risks, Hughes was posthumously awarded The Medal of Honor on Feb. 26, 1944.

Thomas W. Fowler, ’43

After receiving a bachelor’s degree in animal husbandry from Texas A&M, Thomas Fowler, ’43, was drafted into the Army as a second lieutenant for the 191st Tank Battalion.

Serving near Carano, Italy, on May 23, 1944, Fowler took command of a group of infantry platoons whose officers had been struck down by enemy fire. Fowler personally removed buried mines from an enemy minefield to clear the path for the platoons and supporting tanks to advance. Upon spotting enemy troops hidden in foxholes, Fowler stealthily approached and took the Axis forces hostage. During an enemy onslaught, one tank was hit by cannon fire. Fowler dashed through the hail of bullets and mortar shells to rescue the wounded crew.

Ten days after his courageous actions, Fowler was killed by an enemy sniper while he was scouting over a hill. Fowler was posthumously awarded The Medal of Honor on Nov. 11, 1944.

George D. Keathley, ’37

While George Keathley, ’37, initially enrolled in agriculture at Texas A&M in 1934, he never attained a degree due to financial difficulties. To prove his worth in the agriculture field, Keathley worked for the Soil Conservation Service until he joined the Army in May 1942, shortly after marrying his wife, Inez Edmundson.

On Sept. 14, 1944, in the Il Giogo Pass in Italy, Keathley took on the mantle of commander for two platoons who lost their officers. During the firefight, a German hand grenade was launched at the platoon, tearing a massive wound in Keathley’s left side. Cradling his abdomen, Keathley continued fighting and commanding his platoon until reinforcements arrived and pushed back the Axis line. Keathley died soon after. He was buried in the American Military Cemetery south of Florence, Italy, as was his wish — to lie where he fought and died.

Keathley’s bravery was awarded on April 11, 1945, when his Medal of Honor was presented to his wife.

Horace S. Carswell Jr. ’38

Though he joined Texas A&M in 1935, Horace Carswell, ’38, transferred to Texas Christian University, graduating in 1939 with a bachelor’s degree in physical education. As a major in the Army Air Forces beginning in 1940, Carswell served in the 308th Bombardment Group, operating on the Pacific Theatre.

During a nighttime ocean patrol on Oct. 26, 1944, Carswell and his crew began firing at an enemy convoy but encountered heavy antiaircraft fire. Upon Carswell’s orders, eight of the crew bailed out, leaving Carswell and two others on board. The plane’s engine failed, sending the craft careening into the side of a mountain, killing Carswell and the two remaining crew members. After his death, Carswell’s remains were transferred between five different locations for various periods of time before coming to rest in Oakwood Cemetery in Fort Worth in 1993.

After being honored posthumously with The Medal of Honor on Feb. 4, 1946, Carswell Air Force Base in Fort Worth was named after him in January 1948.

Dr. Eli L. Whiteley, ’41 ’59

Upon receiving a bachelor’s degree in agronomy from Texas A&M in 1941, Dr. Eli Whiteley, ’41 ’59, began working toward his master’s degree at North Carolina State University. His studies were interrupted in April 1942 when Whitely joined the Army’s 15th Infantry, 3rd Division and was shipped to France.

While serving as a first lieutenant, Whiteley’s troops traversed France, recapturing cities from the Axis forces. During an attack near Sigolsheim on Dec. 27, 1944, Whiteley’s left arm was injured as Company L worked to clear buildings of enemies. Disregarding his pain, Whiteley continued storming houses and killing enemy forces. Before medical personnel could convince him to seek safety, Whiteley suffered eye damage from a shell fragment but continued fighting.

After his honorable discharge and medical treatment, Whiteley was awarded The Medal of Honor on Aug. 23, 1945.

Returning to civilian life, he began lecturing for freshmen-level agronomy classes at Texas A&M. In 1948, he completed his master’s degree at North Carolina State, then applied for professorship at Texas A&M, where he received his doctorate in soil physics in 1959.

While on campus, Whiteley supported full integration of the university and ending required Corps membership. In 1962, he was nominated to speak at the campus Muster ceremony.

Turney W. Leonard, ’42

A top student at Texas A&M, Turney Leonard, ’42, graduated with his bachelor’s degree in agriculture before reporting for active duty with the Army. Lt. Leonard and the 893rd Tank Destroyer Battalion joined the battle in France in July 1944.

In early November 1944, during a battle in the Hüertgen Forest, Leonard exposed himself to heavy fire while scouting for enemy troops. With other units in shambles due to the deaths of their officers, Leonard took charge and led them into battle, destroying six German tanks. Leonard suffered a grievous injury to his arm from a high-explosive shell, then disappeared. Since Leonard was missing in action, his family was presented with his Medal of Honor on Sept. 1, 1945.

In 1949, units tasked with recovering American bodies from the war zone heard about a farmer’s dugout shelter used as a command post during the Hüertgen Forest battle. The team uncovered Leonard’s body buried by cave-ins and tank tracks. In January 1950, Leonard’s family was informed, and his remains were subsequently laid to rest in Grove Hill Memorial Park Cemetery in Dallas.

William G. Harrell, ’43

The seventh Aggie Medal of Honor recipient attended Texas A&M for two years before leaving for financial reasons. Then, in July 1942, Sgt. William Harrell, ’43, enlisted in the Marine Corps to fight in the Pacific Theater.

Twelve days into the invasion of Iwo Jima, on March 3, 1945, Harrell and Pvt. Andrew Carter were attacked while on guard in the early morning. Carter was forced to fetch a replacement rifle, but in his absence, a grenade blast injured Harrell’s thigh and left hand. Carter returned only to be confronted by two Japanese soldiers. Harrell ordered Carter to get to safety. Two more enemy intruders breached the foxhole, placing a grenade next to Harrell’s head. To their surprise, Harrell managed to kill one of the men and shove the grenade at the second. The explosion killed the enemy, but also took Harrell’s right hand.

After being rescued by Carter, Harrell was awarded the Medal of Honor on Oct. 5, 1945.

Clarence E. Sasser, ’73

Unlike the other Medal of Honor recipients, Clarence Sasser, ’73,fought in the Vietnam War and didn’t attend Texas A&M until after his service. Sasser studied chemistry part-time at the University of Houston until 1967 when he was drafted into the Army as a private first class and medic.

Amid a search and destroy mission in Vietnam on Jan. 10, 1968, 12 helicopters were attacked, forcing an emergency landing. Thirty men suffered injuries or death upon touchdown, including Sasser, who was shot in the right leg. Sasser pulled himself through the flooded paddy, helping every soldier he could until supplies ran out. Though medics were high-profile targets with distinctive bags, Sasser dragged one colleague to safety and was returning for another when a mortar shell struck nearby and peppered him with shrapnel. Sasser kept working, refusing any medical aid for himself. Eighteen hours after the assault began, backup evacuated the survivors, of which Sasser was the only living medic.

On March 7, 1969, Sasser became one of 20 African American soldiers to receive a Medal of Honor from the Vietnam War. Texas A&M President James Earl Rudder ’32 invited Sasser to attend Texas A&M in 1969, but he left after one semester to work at an oil refinery before transferring to the Department of Veterans Affairs in Houston.

In 2014, Sasser received an honorary doctoral degree from Texas A&M — an award bestowed on only 66 individuals in university history.

A&M pays tribute to these eight Aggies in the Hall of Honor in the Memorial Student Center.

This weekend, we honor and remember them — and all Americans who died serving our country.

Gen. George S. Patton said, “It is foolish and wrong to mourn the men who died. Rather we should thank God that such men lived.”

And we do: We thank God for each and every one of them, and we remember the families who mourn them.

God bless.

And thank you.

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