Monday, March 23, 2020

Fifty Years After His Passing, Gen. James Earl Rudder’s Words Ring True and Powerful

The words of Gen. James Earl Rudder '32 are shared today, marking fifty years since this true American and Texas hero passed away in 1970 at the age of 59. Thanks to the generosity of his son, James Earl (Bud) Rudder, Jr. ’62, we can review Gen. Rudder's keynote speech for Aggie Muster, April 21, 1956, on the Texas A&M campus. At the time, Gen. Rudder was serving as Texas Land Commissioner, where he’d been in charge of whirlwind-level changes, revising the Veterans Land Program, which had been previously, “under scrutiny for mismanagement and corruption.” [Photo courtesy of James Earl Rudder, Jr., used with permission.]

Bud noted, “With no formal Aggie Muster events (this year), it was a good time to recall Dad’s words at the 1956 Muster at A&M. They are indeed especially relevant as our country responds" to COVID-19. Continuing, “To sit idly by in these challenging times would dishonor his memory. We must find ways to be part of the solution locally, statewide, and nationally. Every effort large or small matters.”

The four pages of Gen. Rudder’s Muster speech follow; click each page once to enlarge the image for easy reading. The experience of being able to “hear” today from one of Texas A&M’s Aggie son is a gift unto itself. Even more powerful is the sense of how prescient Gen. Rudder was then, and how his words ring true still today. [Click each image once to enlarge and read page.]

"The spirit of those dedicated to a cause can be a most powerful influence in any endeavor."
"If there is no unselfish, conscientious, honest American who is willing to serve, there is always someone with purely selfish motives to fill the vacancy. Political hacks, special interest groups, power-mad bosses and others who would use our government for selfish motives are constantly looking for opportunities to move in and take over. Their chances of success are directly proportionate to the number of Americans who take no interest in the affairs of government."
"For years, Aggies have been building a fine reputation for leadership in almost every walk of life. In civilian pursuits, as well as on the field of battle, they have given our country a large share of the leadership which has paved the path of progress."
"We must seek ways to improve our State and our Nation. Many problems lie before us--important problems such as the water shortage, the need for bringing more industry to Texas, the need for keeping our government the servant of all the people, the need for solving as many problems as possible on the lowest practical level of government. Standing out above all these is the need for men of honesty, integrity and common sense in the halls of government."

By virtual unanimous consent, in the hearts and minds of Texas A&M University former students, faculty, and staff, perhaps no individual exemplifies the values and integrity of all things that are good and true and right about Texas A&M than its most influential alumnus and leader—Gen. James Earl Rudder ’32.

This brilliant, stately young man from Eden, Texas, was born May 6, 1910, and accomplished more good in his 59 years on Earth, than anyone could have ever dreamed. For as long as men have come together to form a government to preserve the freedom of its citizens, a Constitution and Bill of Rights have created the stated ideals of citizen behavior. The state of Texas created the Agricultural and Mechanical College of Texas in the Texas state legislature on April 17, 1871.

Under the Morrill Act (approved by Congress in 1862) “admission was limited to White males, and all students were required to participate in military training. Texas A&M history notes the influence of Gen. James Earl Rudder as president of Texas A&M in the 1960s as having “diversified the college, opening its doors to African-Americans and formally admitting women. Participation in the Corps of Cadets was also made voluntary.” Those three changes made it possible for Texas A&M to soar to dynamic new heights and set a leadership pace for Texas and beyond.

Rudder’s impact on A&M, and A&M’s impact on Rudder began in his student days, when he transferred from almost two years at Tarleton State University and entered A&M College in the “fall of 1930, enrolling in industrial education, with plans to be a football coach.” He graduated in 21 months, in June 1932.

A quick trip on his path of accomplishment found him commissioned as a second lieutenant of infantry in the U.S. Organized Reserve Corps. When called into service (he'd taken several additional courses in anticipation of his being activated, as has been written), his leadership of troops in the Battle of the Bulge, the Battle of Hurtgenwald and his superior victory (despite being wounded twice) against the most astounding odds in the D-Day Ranger Assault at Pointe du Hoc Normandy in April 1944 secured victory for the Allied forces over the Germans as they established a beachhead there.

Honored with multiple awards, including the Distinguished Service Cross, the Bronze Star with Oak Leaf Cluster, the Purple Heart with Oak Leaf Cluster, the French Legion of Honor, the Silver Star, and the rank of colonel by the end of the war, he would achieve the ranks of Brigadier General and Major General in the U.S. Army Reserve by 1957. President Lyndon B. Johnson presented him with the Army Distinguished Service Medal in 1967.

Earl Rudder’s greatest accomplishments in life, though, would far surpass those found in history books, in the archives of our state and nation, and in the living history that continues to be taught to students enrolled in the Texas A&M Corps of Cadets today. Truly, those are part of history, facts, details, and focus only on his military career.

There are many publications, books, and archives that hold the facts and details of his life of service to country and the state of Texas, and even more that contain details on all he did for Texas A&M. Better yet, when they are again open to the public (tentatively planned to open no sooner than May 8), the Texas A&M Archives in the Cushing Library have Gen. Rudder’s papers that are worth review.

Yet, what's most important to know about Gen. Rudder remains in the hearts of Aggies everywhere—he was a selfless leader, committed to public service, fierce defender of truth, a man respected for giving and keeping his word, and a man who loved his wife and family and the extended family of Aggies fortunate enough to meet and know him as “their president.”

Outside military life, Gen. Rudder achieved legendary status for his mental acumen, his integrity and commitment to honor, dignity, and truth in all that he said and did. He respected and listened to differing opinions and made decisions based on hearing all ideas and collecting data until he was ready to decide, based on all the facts.

His service to the state of Texas included roles as Mayor of Brady, Texas, Texas Land Commissioner, Vice President of Texas A&M University and ultimately its President and then “President of the entire A&M System” (today known as Chancellor) from 1965–1970. President Rudder was one of the most popular presidents to live on the A&M campus (the home was bulldozed on March 10, 2020, after 55 years), and was visited often by young Corps students, who sought conversation and advice from time to time.

Although he died 50 years ago today, the influence of Earl Rudder continues to be shared, learned and understood by all students who enter what is now among the top five largest college enrollments nationally. The Rudder’s Rangers group of the Corps of Cadets is an elite student group of students preparing to enter Army Ranger School.

Walking into Rudder Tower on campus you'll find various administrative offices; enter Rudder Auditorium to enjoy national caliber entertainment; enjoy classical concerts in Rudder Theatre; and catch promising theatrical productions in the Rudder Forum. The City of Bryan hosts J. Earl Rudder High School and you get there, leaving the university campus by driving down Earl Rudder Freeway. Those are not the only things named for Gen. Rudder. Statues and monuments are dedicated across Texas in his honor.

It’s not the name on the outside of the building, but the heart, soul, and mind of the man behind the name to which we pay tribute today. Long may his words be heard, and far may his wisdom reach to continue to inspire generations to come.

In memorium, James Earl Rudder, Sr., May 6, 1910 — March 23, 1970

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