Bill Little commentary: The meaning of Veterans' Appreciation Day
The tucked-away file contained yellowed clippings, and as you opened it, you realized that in search of history, you had found it, and in search of a legend, you had found one.
The first thing I noticed in the Hall of Honor file of James A. "Pete" Edmond was a letter envelope dated September, 1918. It had three one-cent stamps on it, and was addressed to Lieutenant James Edmond, Company G., 39th Infantry, Fourth Division, American Expeditionary Forces, France.
It had been marked "Return to Sender."
Pete Edmond was one of the greatest student-athletes in the early days of The University of Texas. From the football season of 1913 through the baseball season of 1916, he earned eleven letters - three in football and four each in basketball and baseball.
He also competed in wrestling, even though it was not an official UT sport.
In the classroom, he held a student assistantship in the history department. He was a member of the Phi Delta Theta fraternity, the Friars and the Arrowhead.
Edmond was outstanding as a player in all sports. As an end in football, he was matched in 1913 against Notre Dame's Knute Rockne, who would go on to become one of the most famous coaches in the history of the college game. Years after the Irish beat the Longhorns, 30-7, that season, Rockne recalled Edmond.
"I'll never forget that player as long as I live," Rockne said. "I played football against the best teams in the east. I played against the best in the west and against the best of other sections, but never was I forced to go up against a better wing. He was as clean as a whistle, but he played hard football...oh, how hard he did play, and I have always admired him for it.
"That was one great star in the southwest who did not get his just dues when all-American teams were picked. I can certainly vouch for that fact. He was a terror when his team was completely overwhelmed. I have often wondered what heights he achieved when playing against a traditional rival?"
In the years following his graduation from Texas, the Waco native married and found a job in the banking business in Orange, Texas. As The United State involvement in World War I deepened, Edmond entered the U.S. Army and received a commission as a second lieutenant.
It has been almost 90 years since Pete Edmond sailed for France, taking the lessons learned in the arena of friendly competition onto the field of battle. And one more time Saturday, we pause to remember what Darrell K Royal-Texas Memorial Stadium means. Saturday, on Veteran's Appreciation day, we get a chance to remember heroes who have stood in harm's way so that the young men of Texas and Texas Tech can play a football game for fun.
In its metamorphosis, the stadium is evolving again. When it was built in 1924, it was dedicated to those like Pete Edmond who had served in "The Great War." In 1977, the stadium was rededicated to veterans of the U. S. Armed Forces who have served in any foreign conflict.
As construction reaches new heights, a Veteran's Committee appointed by President William Powers and chaired by World War II hero Frank Denius maintains a sacred trust that those to whom this stadium is dedicated will never be forgotten.
The committee is made up of those who have served in wars and conflicts dating back to World War II, including, most recently, Lt. Col. David Little, U.S. Marine Corps Reserve, who was stationed in the Al Anbar Province of Iraq as part of Operation Iraq Freedom. Other members are Ernest C. Banasau Jr., James Broaddus, Thomas Hatfield, Ralph Langley, Lt. Gen. (Ret.) Lawson Magruder, Hilmar Moore, former UT president Dr. William Livingston, and Mike Cotten and Howard Terry, both former Longhorn football players as well as veterans.
When construction began on the north end zone project, the stadium was officially "decommissioned," awaiting completion of the work in 2008. Next year, as the new north end facility is finished, a tribute area to the veterans will be included.
The first phase of that recognition actually occurred a couple of years ago, when a commemorative flagpole was erected. The memorial is a replica of one donated when the stadium was constructed in 1924 by the citizens of Fredericksburg in honor of Louis Jordan, the first Longhorn football player killed in World War I.
Pete Edmond would be the last.
In the first quarter century of The University of Texas, Pete Edmond stood out as a model of what every young man entering college would aspire to be. He was active on campus, was an honor student, and was a superior athlete.
It would be there, in the arena, that Edmond would manifest the character and the value of athletics. For it was there, with all of his God-given abilities, that he would manifest the innate nature of sport - the importance of teamwork.
When the stadium was conceived in 1923, it was as a gathering place, as well as a tribute. Plaques that honored those from "The Great War" are carefully stored today, to be placed in a proper place when the current work is done.
But you cannot capture on a plaque the story of Pete Edmond, or the message his life sent about the combined values of patriotism, and the challenges of real war and the philosophies of sport.
That, instead, is tucked away in that old file, where ghosts of the past march as a solemn reminder of why, this day, we should celebrate all of these men and women, and what they have done.
Pete Edmond gave up his banking job to enter Officer's Training Camp, and was commissioned as a second lieutenant assigned to the Fourth Division, 39th Infantry. He sailed for France in April of 1918.
His family knew that he was in Paris as America celebrated Independence Day on July 4, 1918. In the days before instant communications with cell phones and the Internet, the written word was all that a soldier, and his family had.
"Only little letters of a few lines came to us," wrote a member of his family later. "But every day he wrote those few lines. A last letter and a rough picture came 24th October."
Months later, after searching for word through the military and the Red Cross, the family received a cable gram from General Pershing himself.
"Deeply regret to inform you..." it began. It went on to describe where Edmond had been buried, in what would become the largest overseas cemetery in United States history.
Later, the family would begin to piece together the story of lieutenant Pete Edmond.
In a field "near Ferne de Filles, St. Thibaut, France," on August 6, 1918, he made a personal reconnaissance of German positions in the area, covering almost two miles of ground under heavy fire. For that, he was awarded the Silver Star, the third highest recognition in the US military.
On September 26, at Nantilles, Edmond was wounded, but refused to go to the rear and stayed with his men as company commander.
Leaders do that, we're told.
And then, on October 11, 1918, he was killed charging a German machine gun position in the battle of the Argonne Forest, one of the bloodiest campaigns in the history of American warfare, where 26,000 U. S. soldiers died.
He died fighting for his men, and fighting for his country.
One month later, on November 11, the "War to End Wars," was over.
That lofty goal, time has proven, has never been achieved. Men and women serve, and men and women fight, not for war, but to achieve great peace.
And that is why this day and these people are so very important.