Aggies in the Great War: Who Lives, Who Dies, Who Tells Their Story

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By Samantha Gamez

One hundred years ago, the United States joined the Great War. More than 2,000 Aggies served in the conflict. Some lived to tell the story, others died to protect the land of the free and the home of the brave. Up until this year, Texas A&M University has officially recognized 55 Aggies veterans who were enlisted in the Armed Forces and died during what came to be known as World War I. Upon the centennial of the international conflict, an additional five Aggie names have been discovered and added.

The Brazos County World War I Centennial Committee, led by Chairman John Blair, Ph.D., has been working to promote awareness of the history and legacy of Brazos County in WWI. These five men were identified through projects the committee is working on. The Association of Former Students confirmed all five men were enrolled at Texas A&M.

John William Butts

John William Butts was identified by Greg Bailey, university archivist at Cushing Library at Texas A&M. Butts spent his time at Texas A&M involved in numerous activities ranging from the Ross Volunteers to serving as a yell leader. In 1909, he received an apointment to the U.S. Military Academy at West Point where he completed his education in 1914, according to a Texas A&M Today article written by Blair. After graduating, Butts commissioned as a lieutenant in the cavalry and later served as a liaison officer in the air services.  He died in an airplane accident at Souther Field in Georgia on April 3, 1919.

Ira W. South

Ira W. South was a Marine who attended Texas A&M during the 1913-1914 school year. He enlisted only 17 days after the declaration of war and died of pneumonia while at non-commissioned officer training, says Blair, who found South through research of Marines in Brazos County. Before enlisting, South wrote poetry and was even published in the Saturday Evening Post. After his death, his sister obtained more of his unpublished work. It is believed that she sent them to be published posthumously, but it is not known if the new writings were published, according to Blair.

Bill Page, who works at Evans Library, discovered the remaining three Aggies: George Splawn, Hubert Florence, and Joseph Sawyer.

George Splawn

George Splawn, a Texas native, attended Texas A&M for three years before transferring to the North Texas Normal College in Denton, according to Blair’s article. He joined the Army in February 1918 and quickly rose within the ranks to sergeant. As a sergeant, he led his men in Meuse-Argonne campaign where he was wounded in combat. Splawn died of his wounds on Nov. 26, 1918, only 15 days after the Armistice.

Hubert Florence

Hubert Florence was drafted into the service in February 1918 and was assigned to serve in France, according to the committee’s research. However, he contracted the Spanish influenza and died at sea in October 1918. A photo of him in front of his brother’s store in Leesburg, Texas, was discovered in the research projects.

Like Florence, Thomas Sawyer was assigned to serve in France. In fact, he was among the first to fight in France following his enlistment in 1917. He was injured while fighting in Soissons and died on July 23, 1918.

The committee has plans for exhibits across the county to remind locals about those who served our country and sacrificed so much.

Current plans for exhibits include a “Women on Both Fronts” exhibit at the Museum of the American G.I. in College Station and an exhibit on Texas A&M’s participation in WWI at the Brazos County Annex Building. Both exhibits will open in September. The committee is looking for surviving children of these county or Aggie WWI veterans for a planned “Living Legacy” exhibit, date to be announced.

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