November 19, 1999
From staff and wire reports
COLLEGE STATION, Texas (CNN) -- The students killed during the building of the annual bonfire on the tradition-rich Texas A&M campus will be remembered December 7 during a solemn tribute, Silver Taps. Since 1898, the ceremony has honored all Aggies who died while enrolled at the school.
On the first Tuesday of every month from September to April, the campus is hushed, flags fly at half-staff and the list of the dead is posted on the flag pole in the plaza.
At 10:30 p.m., lights on campus are turned off; even the lights on soft drink machines are covered with a blanket.
All students proceed silently to the mall, where the Ross Volunteers, a group of junior and senior cadets who serve as the honor guard to the governor of Texas, fire a 21 gun salute to the fallen students.
Taps is played three times, once to the north, once to the south and once to the west. Tradition states that the bugle call is never played to the east -- to symbolize that the sun never again will rise on the deceased.
Talking will not resume on campus until the next morning.
The names of the students will be recalled once again on April 21, during the annual "Muster," when Aggies gather at hundreds of locations around the world.
During the ceremony on the campus, a "Roll Call for the Absent" is conducted to honor all students and alumni who have died since the last ceremony. A comrade answers "here" for their missing friend.
The school's many traditions are aimed at building a sense of family among the students. Many of the traditions are rooted in the school's past as an all-male military institution, while others, like the bonfire, are part of the university's athletic program.
Despite the tragedy, Texas A&M students overwhelmingly say the 90-year bonfire tradition, symbolized with a sculpture in the middle of campus, must continue.
"It means so much to the student body," said Tracy Anderson, a junior at the school. "If it's taken away, I don't know what we're going to do."
Students consider the huge fire a part of the Aggie spirit.
"I want the nation to know that the Aggie spirit is so alive and so is God, and we turn to him," student Sarah Munoz said. "That's the basis of our campus."
The emphasis on tradition cannot be overstated at the 123- year-old university.
At football games, the Aggie fans never sit down. They celebrate each A&M touchdown, extra point or field goal by kissing their dates.
Student-body cheers are called "yells." And before important games, tens of thousands of past and present Aggies can be seen building up team confidence at a midnight yell practice.
The bonfire tradition is meant to demonstrate a burning desire to beat their arch rival, the University of Texas.
This year's game between the two teams is still on for next Friday, when A&M's stadium is expected to be sold out. Many students said they don't know how they will feel at the game, but they said they will be there -- to show their Aggie spirit.
Correspondent Gary Tuchman contributed to this report.
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