From the Corps XIII: Zach Davis

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What if all you could see of the Corps was a small flicker of light?

What if you couldn't see the colorful guidons of unit after unit marching into Kyle Field?

What if you couldn't lay eyes upon the sunset on the Quad's horizon during an early evening formation?

What would you think? Would you join?

One person did.

"When I hit obstacles, I either go through them or try to go over them or something," said Zach Davis. "I generally don't stop. That's just not the personality I am."

In the second grade, the retina in the Granbury native's right eye detached. A year later, it happened to his left. Davis says he could ride a bike until around the seventh grade, but then he even lost that ability.

Blindness wasn't a birth rite for Davis. Texas A&M was.

"When I got to high school, I was thinking back about how I used to come up here and watch the Corps march in," Davis said. He also recalls visiting for bonfires before the 1999 tragedy. They are memories that are etched into his mind. So despite thoughts against going to A&M before high school, he came to the realization that he should follow in his parents' footsteps. Both are graduates of the Class of 1978.

"I just thought it'd be an amazing place to go," Davis simply put it.

So he decided on A&M, and while visiting campus, he shocked his parents with the proposition that he would like to join the Corps.

"[My mom] thought I was joking," he said, "but I told her I was serious."

So mother and son headed to the Corps headquarters and posed a simple question to the commandant, General John Van Alstyne.

"''Is it possible for me to join the Corps," Davis said he asked. "And all [Van Alstyne] said was, 'You really want to join?' I said, 'Yes, sir,' and he said, 'We'll make it happen.'"

Davis has been achieving ever since his blindness happened. He told his parents that he wanted to attend the Austin School for the Blind, and spent a few years perfecting braille and the use of the cane, a device he chooses not to use at A&M, instead opting for the helping hand of a buddy or classmate to get from place-to-place.

Upon his return to Granberry for high school, he was active in the choir, was in musicals, participated in junior leadership, and even began hunting with a mentor. He has hunted in this state, as well as in South Africa and Canada.

Considering all of the above, while the Corps wouldn't seem like a piece of cake, it certainly wouldn't seem impossible.

"Most blind people would never consider that they could get through the Corps because they can't see," Davis said. "You have to shine brass and that sort of stuff, but you've just got to deal with it and move on."

In fact, making sure uniform pins are as bright as can be was something Davis excelled at.

"I would shine people's brass and they would shine my shoes because, for some reason, I cannot shine shoes for the life of me," Davis said.

But that trade off on tasks is something that epitomizes the buddy system of the cadets, the camaraderie that binds any wearer of the uniform.

"You've got to help out your buddies so they'll help you out," Davis said. "I wouldn't have gotten through fish year without my buddies, and I think some of them wouldn't have gotten through without me."

He may not be able to see, but Zach Davis is really just like any other cadet. He's got formation, those early evening gatherings where hundreds come together for a decades-old display of one group's tradition. Davis emerges from his dorm, lines up with his fellow cadets, then marches to dinner, the hand of a fellow cadet on his shoulder to keep him in step.

He's got his dorm room, complete with a special laptop with audible cues when he mouses over something or types.

He's got his classes and his studies. To Davis, the emphasis on school itself was the most surprising aspect of the Corps experience, contrary to the stories he had heard of non-stop pranks.

"People can say they push scholastics, but actions speak louder than words," Davis said.

But above all, he's got a love for his school and his Corps.

"I couldn't be at A&M if I wasn't in the Corps," Davis said. "It just wouldn't feel right anymore."

Perhaps the biggest display of fortitude for Davis is March In on football game days. Again, it is the hand of a fellow cadet on his shoulder that helps lead him. He is in step with all his buddies as the lefts and rights are called out.

When it's time to make a left turn on the track, that hand-on-shoulder cadet counts down to the turn. After "one," there's a pivot. As many times as he's had to march in his time at A&M, Davis has the pivotal move down to perfection.

"When you're marching in a march-in and you step into Kyle Field and the band strikes it up, you get chills," he said. "Ever since it was built, people have been doing that. Every march-in we do, we're upholding the tradition of A&M."

And every march-in he's in, Zach Davis proves doubters wrong, and impresses all, including the most impressive of people. At the Texas A&M game against Oklahoma, the party in the reviewing stand for the march included University President Robert Gates, Governor Rick Perry, former Senator Phil Gramm, and the former President of the United States, Aggie fanatic George Bush.

As Davis marches past, the president spots Davis, points at him, and begins to chat up whoever he is near about the cadet.

"You see that, and it's inspiring," Mr. Bush would say afterwards. "You say anybody can do anything. It's wonderful."

"If I could change it, I would change it back to not being blind in a heartbeat," said Davis, "but I'm blind, so I don't like hearing, 'You can't do this because you can't see.'

"I guess I'll show that it can be done. That's my goal."