From a distance, all you can see is a statue and what appears to be a long metal template at the top of the North End of Darrell K Royal-Texas Memorial Stadium. At Longhorn home games, you see TV camera personnel.
Yet etched on the tablet are over 5,000 names, those of Texans killed in Word War I. For over 75 years, they have stood sentinel over the events in the stadium dedicated to those Texans who died in World War I, and later re-dedicated to all of the men and women who have served in the Armed Forces of The United States of America in all foreign conflicts.
From their vantage point just under the scoreboard on the North End of the stadium, they have witnessed graduations, concerts, track meets, football games, and thousands of midnight joggers and Frisbee hurlers in a time when the stadium was open year-round.
Now, they will get a rest.
At a decommissioning ceremony held Thursday on a bright July morning with a light wind ruffling the colors and an old soldier leading the Pledge of Allegiance, the Memorial plaques, which will be removed during upcoming reconstruction of the stadium, were officially put at "parade rest." When the 2006 season ends and construction begins as part of a $150 million renovation of the North End, the plaques will be removed and stored for safe keeping until the project is finished in 2008.
Frank Denius, chairman of the Veterans Committee established by the athletics department to maintain the integrity of the original purpose for which the stadium was constructed, led the pledge of allegiance and presided over the brief ceremony.
And then, guests and media members set about surveying the tablet and other memorials in the stadium, which are often seen, but seldom read.
Of greatest interest was the tablet atop the North End.
"It's a moving moment to me to look at the plaque and look at those names and see those who have paid the supreme price for our freedom," Denius said after the ceremony. "It's very moving and very touching for me. I think this is a moment in time when we recognize the past and preserve the future."
In the 1920s, when the North End project was completed as part of stadium construction, which was officially dedicated in 1924, the Fortieth Texas Legislature, meeting in session from 1927 through 1929, established the tablet and underscored the purpose of the stadium.
"To honor the Texas men and women who lost their lives in the service of their country during the World War, the State of Texas, by act of the Fortieth Legislature, gratefully erects this tablet."
The dedication includes a quote from President Woodrow Wilson that says, "What we seek is the reign of law based upon the consent of the governed and sustained by the organized opinion of mankind."
And it concludes with the following words:
"In this course, they made the supreme sacrifice."
Through the years, "They" have been expanded to include a bunch of brave men and women.
There were actually six former Longhorn players who are singled out with a separate plaque, including Louis Jordan, the 1914 football team captain, who died March 5, 1918, killed by a German artillery shell.
Another outstanding player of the early days was James A. "Pete" Edmond, who was an outstanding three-sport letterman. Edmond earned eleven letters, three in football and four each in baseball and basketball. He captained the baseball team and was the basketball team captain for two years.
When the Waco native left Texas following his graduation in 1916, he was marked for success.
In the final days of World War I, Gen. John Pershing was calling for reinforcements for his Army in France as the Germans fought to hold their positions. That part of the war came down to a lush green wood near the town of Verdun, a placed called the Argonne Forest.
On September 26, American Forces engaged the Germans in a battle that lasted a month and a half.
Instant media reporting today, 88 years later, gives regular updates of U. S. Military casualties in fighting in Iraq. As of Thursday, there were 2,011 combat casualties. In the battle in the Argonne Forest in 1918, a total of 26,277 Americans died. One of them was Pete Edmond, who died charging a German machine gun. He was awarded the Silver Star for his bravery.
Just over a month and a half after the battle began, on November 11, 1918, World War I ended.
In the years that would follow, it would be called (as it is on the tablet) "the World War," or "The Great War." They had hoped, futilely as we know now, that this would be the last, great war.
As time has passed, the stadium's face has changed. It was rededicated after World War II to include veterans from that war, and in 1977, it was re-commissioned to include all those who have served in all wars.
When Darrell Royal was approached in 1996 about allowing his name to be added to the stadium, he made it tremendously clear that he wanted to make sure that the tribute to the veterans was never forgotten.
That is the role that Denius, one of the ten most decorated soldiers from the European theatre in World War II, has taken as a personal charge. As the chairman of the committee, he has been the standard bearer.
"I believe today, more people are realizing, since September 11 of 2001, that freedom is not free," he said. "It costs, and it costs in life as well as dollars. To preserve the American way of life is what we're all about, and that's what this stadium really means."
As the construction of the North End of the stadium begins to take form, plans are evolving for an appropriate way to honor the Veterans. Besides the big tablet and the original dedication plaques at the actual north tunnel to the stadium, bronze plaques honoring specific individuals are scattered throughout the portals of the stadium.
Denius and his committee plan on making sure all of those are kept safely during the construction, so that as the stadium heads toward its 100th anniversary in 2024, legend will meet legacy, so that those who served will never be forgotten.