May 18, 2021

Since Texas A&M University’s establishment in 1876, Aggies have served in military conflicts far and wide. The Corps of Cadets strives to prepare cadets to lead in the armed forces, sending more officers into military service than any other public university. Those who return from war find a special place at Texas A&M, which consistently seeks to serve the student veteran population and honor those who never come home.

The Memorial Student Center fulfills this aspiration as a living memorial to all Aggies who lost their lives during battle and as home to the Hall of Honor, which commemorates eight Aggies who received the nation’s highest military decoration: The Medal of Honor. Fittingly, the Don & Ellie Knauss Veteran Resource and Support Center will soon open its new location near the Hall of Honor and the exhibits of these most selfless Aggies to date (see sidebar for more info).

The eight Medal of Honor recipients came from different backgrounds but ultimately exhibited the core values Texas A&M holds dear, five giving their lives in service of their country. Each proved himself through dedication, loyalty, compassion and selflessness, making them all deserving of this award.

 

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. Texas A&M honored Hughes’ sacrifice by dedicating Hughes Residence Hall in 1969. Hughes’ medal, one of only two pin-on medals bestowed upon Aggies, is on display in the Sam Houston Sanders Corps of Cadets Center at Texas A&M’s College Station campus.

 

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. Fowler’s legacy continued at Texas A&M when Fowler Residence Hall was named for him in 1969, and then again when his pin-on medal, the second of the two at Texas A&M, went on display in the Sanders Corps of Cadets Center in 2009.

 

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. At Texas A&M, Keathley Residence Hall was named in his memory in 1969. Keathley’s medal, the first of the ribbon medals on display, has resided in the Sanders Corps of Cadets Center since 2009.

 

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, the Carswell Air Force Base in Fort Worth was named after him in January 1948. Though efforts were made to locate Carswell’s medal in 2008, its current whereabouts remain unknown.

 

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. Then, in 1969, Whiteley Corps Residence Hall was named in his honor.

Whiteley remained at Texas A&M until 1979. He died of a heart attack in 1986, becoming only the second person to lie in the rotunda of the Jack K. Williams Administration Building for public viewing after his death, following Gen. James Earl Rudder ’32. Whiteley’s Medal of Honor has been on display at Texas A&M the longest, though a precise date cannot be determined. It currently resides in the Sanders Corps of Cadets Center.

 

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. Lieutenant 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 warzone 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.

Named in his honor, the Leonard Corps Residence Hall has acknowledged Leonard’s heroic deeds since 1969. Outside of campus, the Turney W. Leonard Governance & Training Center in Dallas also bears his name. In 2000, Leonard’s Aggie ring came home to Texas A&M after remaining lost for more than 50 years. His ring and Medal of Honor now rest in the Sanders Corps of Cadets Center.

 

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, Sergeant William Harrell ’43 enlisted in the Marine Corps to fight on the Pacific Theatre.

Twelve days into an invasion on Iwo Jima, on March 3, 1945, Harrell and private 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. To replace his missing hands, Harrell received prosthetic hooks, which he became adept at using. While he never completed his degree, Harrell moved to San Antonio, where he worked as a contact representative with the Department of Veterans Affairs. Tragically, on Aug. 9, 1964, Harrell presumably shot and killed another World War II amputee, Edward Zumwalt, and Zumwalt’s wife, Geraldine, before turning the gun on himself. There was no motive ever discovered for the murder-suicide, leaving many unanswered questions.

Despite Harrell’s mysterious death, Harrell Corps Residence Hall was dedicated to him in 1969. Harrell’s Medal of Honor is currently on loan to the Sanders Corps of Cadets Center and will be permanently donated upon the passing of Gary Harrell, his son.

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.

Sasser was not included in the MSC Hall of Honor until 2013, when Texas A&M officially displayed his military portrait, Medal of Honor citation and a replica of his medal alongside those of the other seven. In 2014, Sasser received an honorary doctoral degree from Texas A&M—an award bestowed on only 66 individuals in university history.

A New Campus Home for Veterans Near the Hall of Honor

“Serve well those who have served.”

The veteran population at Texas A&M includes approximately 1,250 current students who have served in the military. Due to their typically higher age, veterans can undergo a series of transitions to return to civilian life and begin college, working through their different experiences, social interests and ideas that separate them from non-veteran students.

Originally opened in 2012, the Veteran Resource and Support Center (VRSC) has provided help and a caring environment for student veterans to bridge that gap. In July 2020, the VRSC moved to the lower level of the MSC before Don and Ellie Knauss donated $5 million toward veterans’ scholarships and renovations to relocate to the upper level of the MSC, subsequently expanding the space to better serve the student veteran population.

The newly renovated center, now named in the Knausses’ honor, will offer various community, peer-led, financial aid, transition, mental health and career-readiness programs, helping veterans connect with each other and adjust to civilian life. From 8 a.m. to 5 p.m., students can visit the VRSC to utilize resources, obtain free textbooks, meet with staff by appointment or simply find a quiet place to study.

“We believe that education is the one way to ensure that veterans can maximize their full potential,” Ellie Knauss said. “It was a very easy decision with our interest in educational philanthropy to make sure that some of the people we feel are most deserving get the help they need. We think education is the great equalizer of opportunity.”

We've Got a New Look!

Welcome to our new and improved Texas A&M Foundation website.