Texas A&M University has a strong military tradition, as members of the Corps of Cadets and other former students have been involved in every American armed conflict since 1876. Besides the military academies, no other university commissions as many cadets into military service as Texas A&M. The Cooper K. Ragan Military History Collection at Cushing Memorial Library and Archives seeks to complement the military history of Texas A&M.
The collection is named after Cooper Ragan, who donated the bulk of the original collection to the library in 1988. Comprised of nearly 30,000 volumes of material related to the history and technologies of battle, the Ragan Military Collection spans American military history from the Mexican-American War through the Iraq War, but concentrates most heavily on the 20th century. It is strong in both naval and aviation history, while unit histories, regalia, and literary and personal narratives are all amply represented as well.
Other items in the collection include books, diaries, logs, letters, photographs, artifacts, sheet music and war effort propaganda posters. Many of these items were donated by former students. There is even a collection of firsthand accounts, self-published by the residents of Arbor Oaks, an independent living community in Bryan, Texas, who documented their World War II wartime experiences.
During World War I and World War II, propaganda posters were often printed by the U.S. Government Printing Office to spread patriotism and information about the war efforts. Poster themes range from recruiting to encouraging civilians to ration their food and buy bonds. In fact, the common idiom “loose lips sink ships” derives from a propaganda poster printed during World War II that discourages talking publicly about sensitive or confidential information that might give an advantage to the enemy.
The many books in this collection discuss topics such as military formations, how to operate zeppelins and tactics for officers for training their troops. There are also maps in the collection that portray various fronts of different wars, including Germany and the Pacific. Some of the early training manuals are bilingual to help officers who spoke different languages.
Some of the physical objects used by soldiers include an American World War I band uniform, a German canteen, a sterilized camp battle dressing kit, a Spanish-American War walking cane, a mirror for shaving and even cannonballs from the Texas Revolution. Perhaps one of the collection’s most harrowing items is a wooden box full of lantern slides, or transparent photographic plates, that depict the devastating aftermath of the bomb-drop zones in Hiroshima and Nagasaki, Japan.
Visiting military historians and scholars, as well as history classes, visit Cushing Library to view this collection, as it offers a glimpse into life during these troubled times. A chronological study of these materials takes researchers on a journey through military and technological advancements, as armies shifted from using weapons such as pikes and swords to flame-throwers in the 1940s.
Cushing Memorial Library & Archives loaned items from the Ragan Military History Collection to the exhibit "Texas Aggies Go To War,” which opened locally in August at the J. Wayne Stark Museum located on campus in the Memorial Student Center. The exhibit originally debuted in Bastogne, Belgium, in December 2014 as part of the 70th anniversary commemoration of the Battle of the Bulge. The exhibit, which continues through December, tells the story of five Texas A&M former students who played pivotal roles in the battle which led to the Allied victory in Europe. These five men—James Hollingsworth ’40, Turney Leonard ’42, Willie Peña ’42, Joe Routt ’37 and Earl Rudder ’32— are representative not only of all Aggies, but all Americans who served in World War II.
The Ragan Military Collection houses only a few items from recent American wars, such as the Vietnam War, the Persian Gulf War and the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq. This is partly because war-era objects are often donated to libraries and museums only after their owners have passed away. Cushing Library will gladly accept materials related to American wars, especially those from more recent wars. Please reach out to Anton duPlessis '03 at firstname.lastname@example.org or Robin Hutchison '91 at email@example.com, who serve as curators of this collection.
You may donate items relating to the Ragan Military Collection or funds to support this collection by contacting Anton duPlessis '03 at firstname.lastname@example.org or Robin Hutchison '91 at email@example.com or (979) 845-1951.