by Randall Beaird
My first year in college began in a wheelchair. On August 20, 1981, three days prior to my departure for Texas A&M, my right leg was crushed under Star, our lanky quarter horse. We were in a dead-run by the asphalt when Star drifted onto the road. As I inched him back to the grass, all four feet slipped and my right leg was smashed and good. Star stood up and stared as I twisted around in the weeds.
My right toe needed stitches, imagine a tomato, while the bone snapped just above my ankle. A balance in breaks of sorts–my left leg required two screws a year earlier after a football pile-up. After five days in the hospital, and one hip cast later, I was four days late in joining the Texas Aggie Corps of Cadets.
My twenty “fish buddies” and I were in for the surprise of our lives. With shaved heads and a closet full of uniforms, you either learned to play the game and remember names or scampered back to the normal life. Like starved sharks, the sophomores cruised the hallways looking for freshman. After a year of being lowly mud minnows they were anxious to holler and be in charge. It was all for the best. We were broken down to nothing and built back to our nation’s salvation, a unit that can follow orders.
We had to “whip-out,” aggressively meet and remember all the upperclassmen names. Screaming, “sounding off,” was encouraged. Faced with this tradition, I left my high school shell in a blur after a few introductions.
There was lots of Aggie trivia to memorize, and chores. Push-ups were quite popular.
The Fish Drill Team practiced in the middle of the quad every evening. With a commander barking out directions, retired rifles snapped from shoulder to shoulder in varying degrees of unison. Most of the freshman weren’t in High School ROTC so skills were low and the motivational runs long. Still on crutches, I hobbled over to see if I could join the fun.
“When can you run?”
“In five weeks.”
They handed me an old Springfield bolt-action. Without moving much, I learned the different maneuvers.
My first run in formation was pretty memorable. Looking back, could go either way. I was tough and didn’t quit, though ended forty yards behind the pack in a staggering limp, or I was dumb for not taking it easier on my leg.
After Christmas break the intensity of our drill rose as we prepared for competition. In our motivational runs around the campus some would fall out from exhaustion. They would stop but their “weapon” could not; we passed it around taking turns cradling two rifles. For some reason that always made me chuckle, as we tried to pass it around and not lose our step.
Prior to competitions we shaved our heads to show unity. Common ground was good with old Springfield rifles whizzing overhead. In New Orleans we marched in a ten mile long parade at Mardi Gras. Never have I seen such a show of wanton behavior. Our formation’s demeanor was in serious jeopardy as gorgeous women/red lips pecked away at our perimeter. Bad draw for me, stuck in the middle of the pack, wishing for the edge and the difficult lip patrol.
My A&M days had me close to joining the Marine Corps. In the end, not sure of my direction, I left College Station after two years. Things run in the family–being a teacher ran in mine. I landed at SFA for my bachelors, then again for my Masters.
** (Thanks to Claudette Brashear Beaird, my mother, for the encouragement, and B. Lynn Beaird, my father, for the example.)