Corregidor Muster photo carries Aggie spirit 71 years later

COLLEGE STATION, Tex. (KBTX) - Every year on April 21, hundreds of Aggie Muster gatherings are held all around the world. But there's a photograph of a particular Muster from World War II, that still holds some mystery for Texas A&M University.

The group of Aggie soldiers who were serving in the Pacific at the end of the war, took it upon themselves to spread the spirit of Aggieland in April of 1946.

"Muster is perhaps our greatest tradition at Texas A&M University," said Kathryn Greenwade, VP of Communications for the Associations of Former Students. "It takes all of our traditions and boils it down to the very essence of what being an Aggie is and that's about looking out for one another."

But it's the 1946 Muster on the small island of Corregidor in the Philippines, that still has the university asking, 'who are all these men'?

"There are 127 men in this photograph and we've been looking in earnest since 1996 to identify all of the men in the photo," explained Greenwade.

Their initial effort in the 1996 Aggie magazine, that featured the photo with an overlay where they numbered each man, gathered 109 identities. But since then, only four additional men have been identified, with two of those discoveries happening just this year.

"I'm one of the few left, pretty soon there won't be any of us," said Edward Mitchell '46.

He was labeled in that photograph as number 87.

"It was such a fellowship thing. I just absolutely never thought I would end up over there," said Mitchell.

He was originally supposed to be stationed in Europe, but a last minute change of plans had him deploying to the Philippines when the war ended in 1945.

Then, in 1946, Mitchell heard about the Muster planned on Corregidor, to honor the 24 Aggies who fought and were forced into a death march across the island back in 1942.

"It was a lot of tears, a whole lot of quietness and thoughtfulness because those were our buddies," said Mitchell.

For years, many people believed this group of men were those that suffered through the death march; but Mitchell wants to set the record straight.

"It wasn't us. We weren't the ones that suffered there. We were just celebrating the death of our buddies," explained Mitchell. "It makes me cry every time I think about it. But it was such a great thing, I'll never forget that day."

Though the emotions were raw, Mitchell says they did have a little fun that day, at the expense of a UT grad that was recently confirmed to have been there. Another photograph shows the Aggies photographing themselves with their backsides to the camera, in jest towards their UT guest.

"Well, that was a part of it," laughed Mitchell. "But I'm sure there was a yell attached to that!"

The tradition, truth and legend of this particular Muster, continues to serve as a lesson to Aggies young and old.

"It's all about preserving the legacy and capturing the stories of the Aggies and especially this particular generation of Aggies," said Greenwade. "Their integrity and work ethic is what established the reputation of A&M. Because of the way they went about their business, people have a great respect for the university and we want to honor them and make sure their stories are not lost."

"Oh man, when I think about it, it's just butterflies like crazy. Texas A&M, there's no place like it," said Mitchell.

The number of Aggies that remain unidentified currently stands at 14. The Association of Former Students hopes the power of social media will help them to match those final names.

More than 320 Muster gatherings will be held around the world this year.

If you want to take a closer look at the iconic 1946 photograph, head to the website in the Related Links section on this page.