May 17, 2022

In the steamy August heat of 1968, during the height of the Vietnam War, Landis Cervenka ’69 arrived on campus eight days early for mandatory Aggie Band practice. One afternoon, following the end of rigorous training, he found time to thoroughly explore campus. With the sun beating down on his back and history weighing on his mind, Cervenka traversed campus, taking particular note of the war memorials and tributes.  

It dawned on Cervenka that there were no memorials for Aggies who gave their lives for their country after World War II ended, despite the hundreds of Korean and Vietnam War casualties. He knew that if the war didn’t end soon, he and his peers would likely be sent off to join the fight.  

“The draft was still shipping out any man they could to Vietnam, so the writing was on the wall,” Cervenka recalled. “We knew what was going to happen once we graduated. And we knew it had already happened to others.” 

Instead of waiting for someone else to memorialize his fallen Aggie brethren, Cervenka took action. 

Marking a Spot 

With no guidebook on how to create a campus memorial, Cervenka met a difficult start. He marched to the Trigon to tell his idea to then-Assistant Commandant of Cadets Maj. Edmond Solymosy ’60, who later retired from the Army at the rank of brigadier general. However, it was just a broad concept. Solymosy told him to figure out specific details and return with a plan. 

Down the Avenue 

When Cervenka arrived and presented the completed design with its collected funds, he received overwhelming support. On top of eagerly approving the memorial’s final plans, Rudder assigned Cervenka to a more personal project: beautifying the Eastgate entrance to campus. He gave him one week to get it done.  

After hours of driving, walking and examining New Main Drive, inspiration struck. Cervenka rushed back to Verdoorn for drafts, which he delivered to Rudder exactly on time.  

Named the Avenue of Flags, the design called for 50 American flags to line New Main Drive, set at 50-foot intervals. This gesture would recognize the unity among students from all 50 states, brought together under the nation’s flag. The flags would be displayed on the three military holidays, gameday weekends and special occasions on campus, such as Family Weekend

Left photo courtesy of The Battalion; right photo provided by Texas A&M Division of Marketing & Communications

Rudder only had to hear half the presentation before declaring the idea perfect, grabbing the plans and rushing out of the room. The next week, Cervenka graduated and commissioned into the U.S. Army, leaving campus before either the Avenue of Flags or the memorial reached completion. 

Years later, Rudder’s son, James Earl “Bud” Rudder Jr. ’62, explained to Cervenka why the Avenue of Flags on Eastgate was a particular passion of his father’s. “He pulled me over to the side and said, ‘Do you want to know why my father told you to beautify Eastgate?’” Cervenka remembered. “‘Out of all the places that he had been as a student and as president, he loved Eastgate because it was the front door to Texas A&M University.’” 

Dedicated to the Fallen 

Six months after Rudder received the plans, the war memorial, then dubbed the Memorial Meditation Garden, was finished. On Nov. 8, 1969, four-star Gen. Bernard Schriever ’31 delivered the address during the official dedication ceremony to an emotional 1,000-member audience.  

50 Years Later…  

When the memorial was initially installed, 326 Aggies were listed on its bronze plaques. Over the years, as more casualties were uncovered and Aggies continued to give their lives for freedom, the list grew to include 469 names.  

In 1976, the university relocated its war memorials to the newly constructed Corps Arches by the Quad. The Memorial Meditation Garden was no more, its bronze plaques finding a new home and a new name: The Corps Plaza Memorial, as it is known today. 

Photos provided by Texas A&M Division of Marketing & Communications

“When we return to gaze on the memorial and read the names, we still feel the loss and the sadness for their families,” Howell described. “And then you think, ‘Do you have the courage to make those same kinds of sacrifices?’”  

Though the memorial has moved and changed over time, the bronze plaque above the names of those fallen has remained the same, reading simply: “This memorial is dedicated to those A&M men & women who gave their lives in defense of our country since World War II. Here is enshrined in spirit and bronze a tribute to their valor and devotion to their country.”