There was irony in the morning. At one end of the massive stadium, a group of young Longhorns gathered in the players' lounge in Moncrief Neuhaus anxiously awaiting word of their fate in the 2003 NCAA Baseball Tournament.
At the other, far above the quiet and cavernously vacant structure, a weathered plaque of names caught moments of sunshine, after the rain.
Sometimes, in the midst of our busy lives, we forget.
And every now and then, it is important to remember.
So that young men can play, so that we can have the freedom to go to the lake and water ski and eat barbecue and burgers and enjoy an evening together, people have died.
And that is what the dedication memorial at the end of Darrell K Royal-Texas Memorial Stadium is all about. The plaque was placed there when the stadium was constructed in 1924. It was a tribute to those Texans who gave their lives in World War I…known then as "The Great War."
That was supposed to be the "war to end all wars."
And that was a dream that wasn't to be. As the eager Texas students contributed to the construction of the stadium, the euphoria in 1924 was strong. But the winds of war would soon come again, and as the war drums began sounding in Germany, it became obvious that there would be other battles, other wars.
This thing we call freedom would come, and be maintained, at a dear price.
Memorial Day is perhaps the most significant holiday we have in that regard. It has become the launch pad for summer, that happy, carefree holiday that signifies the passage from the rites of spring to the lazy, hazing days ahead.
That is why the young men watched the cable television network on the giant screen TVs--contraptions that the boys with the long rifles could never have envisioned almost 80 years before. They watched, because they could.
But as the happy days of sports and recreation blend with a day of tribute, it is important to understand that we could not have had one without the other.
Louis Jordan was the first, and most noteworthy of the former Longhorns to die in World War I, but there have been many others who gave their lives in other places, other wars.
Perhaps the strangest story of a former Longhorn and the war is that of Jack Chevingy, who was the head coach of the football team in the 1930s. Chevingy, who was a legendary player at Notre Dame, might well have been the head coach of the Fighting Irish, had his head coach, Knute Rockne, not died in a plane crash before Chevigny could get his coaching career established.
Texas hired him to become its head coach in 1934, and charged him with beating Notre Dame that first year, and he did. So impressed were the Longhorns faithful that they gave him a fountain pen with the inscription, "to an old Notre Damer who beat Notre Dame."
Chevigny's light faded quickly at Texas, and by 1937, the handsome coach had gone, to be replaced by Dana X. Bible. Chevigny returned to Chicago, and when World War II started, he became a Marine officer.
Jack Chevigny was killed at Iwo Jima, but it was the odyssey of his fountain pen that caught the attention of Bill Stern, a famous broadcaster of the time. It seems when the officers of Japan and The United States met aboard the USS Missouri to sign the truce signifying the end of World War II, a US officer noticed a Japanese officer signing the documents with a shiny gold fountain pen with an inscription on it.
The officer asked to see the pen, and read the words, "to an old Notre Damer who beat Notre Dame." Aware of the legacy of Chevigny, the officer put the pen in his pocket and took it back to Chicago, and found Chevigny's sister and gave her the pen, which must have been taken from Chevigny's body during the battle where so many died.
In the mountains of North Carolina, where Mack Brown has spent some Memorial Day holidays over the past years, they have a special term for this day. It's called "Decoration Day," and in the little towns in the hills, families gather to place flowers on the graves of the service personnel lost in war battles.
When people first proposed to Coach Royal that his name be included on the stadium, it was very important to him--a veteran of World War II himself--that nothing be done to change the original commitment of "Texas Memorial Stadium." It has since been rededicated, not only to those who died in the wars, but to all veterans who have served in all conflicts.
It is important to remember all the veterans, but on this day, it is particularly important to remember those who died.
We will never know what might have become of Louis Jordan, or Jack Chevigny, or others whose lives were cut short as they nobly served their country. But we do know is this:
This day is about pausing, if only for a moment, to realize that there is a price for freedom, and there are those who served and fought and died to pay that tab.
And at The University of Texas, the stadium on San Jacinto and 23rd Street will stand now and far into the future, as a monument to them.