“The Last Corps Trip” poem is read every year at Muster ceremonies around the world and lives on as a beacon of the Aggie Spirit.
By Bec Morris '23
April 19, 2021
When the Corps of Cadets left campus early for a Corps trip to a football game in 1949, one snide comment from a professor would sow the seeds for a tradition near and dear to the hearts of all Aggies.
“That Cadet Corps could have a one-way ticket to hell and they would leave two days early,” remarked the professor.
Philo “Buddy” DuVal ’51, a studious mechanical engineering cadet, heard the remark and was appalled. Something had to be done, so Buddy began scribbling a response: a poem about how the cadets made a trip to heaven, not hell. Little did he know that his retort to a rude professor would become ingrained in Aggie culture forever as “The Last Corps Trip.”
Buddy hailed from Shreveport, Louisiana, though he was born in Tyler, Texas, in 1930. Once he made his way to Texas A&M University, he joined the Signal Corps before transferring to the F-Flight Air Force unit.
The day “The Last Corps Trip” emerged, Buddy had decided to hang back from the Corps trip so he wouldn’t miss class.
“He was a serious student and very quiet-natured,” Buddy’s third wife, Evelyn, remembers. “He was not one who wanted to get out of class unless he really felt it necessary. I guess that’s why, with the kind of personality he had and his dedication to his studies, he stayed and went later.”
The first person to read the scribbled piece of poetry was Buddy’s best friend and roommate, Joseph Bravenec ’51.
“One night, Buddy handed me this paper and said, ‘I want you to read this,’” Bravenec recalled. “I was awed. We discussed taking it to Bonfire, so I typed it and we took it to ‘Red’ Duke. The rest is history.”
Dr. James “Red” Duke ’50, a Yell Leader at the time, saw the poem and was blown away. He read the poem aloud at the Bonfire midnight yell practice, setting in motion a series of events that would soon lead to the poem being known campus-wide for years after.
Since that first yell practice reading, “The Last Corps Trip” has been read aloud at numerous events. However, at some point in the poem’s journey, it was recited during the oldest gathering on campus: Aggie Muster.
The history of this ceremony is a long and complex journey. Dr. John Adams Jr. ’73 authored “Softly Call the Muster,” a book that details the various histories of the event from its beginning as a San Jacinto Day celebration to the formal proceedings that we know today, complete with “The Last Corps Trip,” the lighting of the candles and the solemn “Here” voiced during the Roll Call for the Absent.
“Tracing any tradition to its roots is fraught with the risks of misinterpretation and unreliable sources,” Adams wrote. “Aggie Muster represents the principal event at which students, former students, and the friends of Texas A&M gather to reflect on their alma mater, old friendships, those who have passed during the previous year, and a raw sense of patriotism that sets Texas A&M apart among other organizations, universities and colleges.”
In the years since the unknown first Muster reading, every April 21, the words, “It was judgement day in Aggieland,” ring through the crowds at Aggie Muster ceremonies worldwide, bringing tears to the eyes of former and current students alike.
“A lot of the older people who called Buddy to convey their emotions about his poem said they could not read it aloud because it would make them cry and they just couldn’t finish it,” Evelyn said. “They would say, ‘I don’t know if anything touches my heart quite as much as your poem does to me.’”
Along with being read at Muster every year, “The Last Corps Trip” is a staple part of Bonfire’s burn night. Once Duke read the poem at burn, Aggie Bonfire ensured the tradition would continue at that gathering as well. The familiar words resonated even more strongly with the Bonfire community after tragedy struck.
When the Bonfire collapsed on Nov. 18, 1999, one former student, Kathryn Smith ’73, took it upon herself to create a tribute to the 12 victims by writing a continuing verse of the treasured poem.
“As we were getting closer to Muster, I felt like ‘The Last Corps Trip,’ which was traditionally read at Bonfire and Muster, needed to say something about the 12 victims,” Smith said. “I spent some time studying the poem because I wanted it to sound like the original person could have written it if they had witnessed what happened when stack fell.”
Smith’s son, a freshman in the Corps of Cadets in 1999, had been working on stack mere hours before the collapse. She remembers rushing to campus to comfort her son and his buddies. In the aftermath, Smith shared her pain through the poem, which she posted on TexAgs, not expecting any acclaim.
“It was written from my heart, and I really tried to capture what we were dealing with at the time,” Smith said. “Bonfire meant so much more than a football game or a pep rally. It was a way that the hearts of all Aggies came together, so it was such a horrible loss for those of us who were dealing with it at the time, plus the absolutely horrible loss of 12 students who could have been my son.”
“The Last Corps Trip” was inscribed in stone at the Bonfire Memorial constructed upon the site of the collapse, with Buddy’s blessing. While Smith’s verse is not included, it has a special place on The Association of Former Students’ website beneath the original.
Through the decades, the poem has seen additional verses, been spoken aloud innumerable times, caused many tears and grown into a legendary piece of campus lore.
After Buddy earned his Texas A&M degree, he graduated with an executive MBA from Harvard University and spent 38 years working for Marathon Oil. During that time, he married and raised a family, though he lost his first and second wives to cancer. In the five years leading up to his death, Buddy was diagnosed with Alzheimer’s disease, which Evelyn helped him through as he declined. At the time of his passing on Feb. 10, 2017, he had been married to Evelyn for 11 years while living in Benton, Louisiana.
“The very thing that made Buddy brilliant was his thinking ability, so it was difficult to see him as an Alzheimer’s patient,” Evelyn said. “But I’m so glad I had the first six years of our life together before he started experiencing symptoms.”
Though Buddy has undergone his last corps trip, his memory lives on every time someone reads his poem, visits the Bonfire Memorial, sees his class ring in the Clayton W. Williams, Jr. Alumni Center or views the plaque dedicated in his honor outside the Sanders Corps of Cadets Center.
Buddy’s legacy also continues through the John E. Conner ’51 Memorial Sul Ross Scholarship for Corps of Cadets members, which he created in 2001.
“John was one of his best friends, and he felt like they shared so much of the history of Texas A&M that he wanted to establish that memorial scholarship,” Evelyn said. “The kind of love and support the Corps and Buddy had for each other really has been remarkable to see.”
Bravenec, now 91 years old, still reminisces about his friend and the way Buddy touched so many hearts through his words.
“On Nov. 11, 2009, Buddy wrote to me, ‘To Joe Bravenec ’51, Without your support, ‘The Last Corps Trip’ would still be in my old A&M footlocker,’” Bravenec recalled. “‘Instead, it became a beloved tradition. Old friend, I thank you from the bottom of my heart. Signed, Buddy 11/11/09.’”
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