May 15, 2024

“Ride in the back like the officers do.”

Lewis Stein ’45 gratefully accepted the U.S. Army Jeep driver’s invitation. The Brownsville, Texas, resident—who had just been released from a field hospital after being treated for an injury suffered in battle in December 1944—had orders to join Company I, 399th Infantry. Stein originally planned to walk, but riding in the Jeep would allow him to continue to recover from his wounds while avoiding prolonged exposure to France’s frigid temperatures on Jan. 8, 1945.

The Jeep headed toward the frontline, located in the area around Strasbourg, France—and directly into the sightline of a Nazi sniper who mistook Stein (who was a private first class) for a U.S. Army officer because he was sitting in the back seat.

The sniper’s aim proved to be deadly accurate—and as a result, Stein’s name joined the list of more than 8,600 Allied forces killed in what became the Battle of the Bulge. Yet the clash—the largest and bloodiest battle the United States would fight in World War II—proved to be decisive, marking the Axis powers’ last major offensive on the Western Front. As a result, Allied forces gained a foothold in Germany, located directly across the Rhine River from Strasbourg. The Nazi regime surrendered May 7, 1945, almost four months to the day that Stein died.

The Aggie Commitment to Freedom

Stein was among more than 20,000 Aggies who served in World War II—and the military’s top leaders were impressed by the Aggies’ bravery, selfless service and leadership across the various war theatres. “A&M is writing its military history in the blood of its graduates, not only in the Philippines campaign but on the active fronts of the Southwest Pacific,” General Douglas MacArthur wrote to Texas A&M President T.O. Walton.

Texas A&M students and former students valiantly fought in the war’s most notable battles, including Pearl Harbor, the Battle of Midway, Iwo Jima, D-Day and the Battle of the Bulge, as well as lesser known but equally deadly conflicts. Additionally, three Aggies took part in Capt. James Doolittle’s raid over Japan while another was part of the raid’s reserve crew.

The Aggies also distinguished themselves in leadership roles. Approximately 14,000 were officers, exceeding the number serving from any other school, including the U.S. military academies. Additionally, 29 Aggies were promoted to the rank of general during the war.

Seven soldiers with ties to Texas A&M received the Medal of Honor. And 854 Aggies—including Stein—paid the ultimate price with their life.

Honoring Veterans

While Levy doesn’t have many memories of Stein, there is one thing he is sure of: His cousin “loved being an Aggie.” And as he learned more about Texas A&M’s values and quality education, he understood why. “I’m kind of old school—faith, family, country, integrity, merit, excellence,” he explained. “Texas A&M seemed to embrace many of the things that I value, so I thought it was especially important to honor Lewis at the university.”