Texas A&M officials plan overseas exhibit honoring Aggies who fought in WWII

By ALLEN REED | The Eagle, Bryan, Texas | Published: February 25, 2014

BRYAN, Texas — Aggies are indeed everywhere. Within a year, a Texas A&M war exhibit will be erected in Belgium.

On Monday evening, a hodgepodge of university and A&M System officials, local politicians, prominent businesspeople and Belgian guests gathered to formalize its creation.

The 5,000-square-foot museum piece will be temporarily located in Bastogne, Belgium, and will honor A&M's past, present and future. Titled "Texas Aggies Go To War," the exhibit will open in the Bastogne War Museum on Dec. 13 — right before the 70th anniversary of World War II's Battle of the Bulge. Texas A&M business collaborations fueled the creation of the exhibit, and officials hope it will be the catalyst for more economic growth.

For nearly a half hour, a row of the decision makers signed four agreements at the University Club at Texas A&M. The backdrop included the red, yellow and black Belgium flag and the red and yellow Wallonia flag, the French-speaking southern region of the nation where the exhibit will be located. About 50 people attended the two-hour kick-off ceremony that included speeches, wine and a little Texas hospitality in the form of Shiner Bock.

The agreements included a memorandum of understanding, a sister city agreement, an economic development agreement and the contract to provide funding for the museum.

"My last trip to Bastogne, they talked about and pride themselves on being the most American of European cities," said Brett Cornwell, the A&M System's associate vice chancellor for commercialization. "When the [exhibit] opens, they will be the most Aggie of European cities."

Cornwell said the concept and theme of the exhibit are more or less set, but that the details for what it will look like has not been finalized. The exhibit will consist of seven rooms and will tell a longitudinal story. It starts with America before the war, takes patrons through battles including Normandy and the Battle of the Bulge, and ends with a room of present-day partnerships between Bastogne and the Brazos Valley. There will be a room of remembrance to honor Aggies who lost their lives in World War II and an oral history room with five select Aggies with special stories, such as former A&M president James Earl Rudder and former NFL player Joe Routt.

"It's those kinds of stories that we'll tell that will have the multiple facets that will connect the audience, which will be European and American, to Texas A&M and the community," Cornwell said.

After about two years, and possibly a tour around Europe, the $1.5 million exhibit will be moved to Brazos County, although a specific local location hasn't been determined.

"This project is about much more than having an exhibit in the heart of Bastogne that tens of thousands of people will see, branding the university in a part of the world that doesn't know our name and spreading the word about Texas Aggies' loyalty, service for others and selfless sacrifice," Cornwell said. "The stories we can tell about Texas A&M, the community and former enemies becoming friends will be really, really outstanding and will create an opportunity for us as a community and university system to tell our story in a way we haven't before."

At the end of the signing ceremony, the Belgian guests were showered with mementos, including a commemorative coin from College Station, a clock from the A&M System and a cowboy hat from the city of Bryan.

"First off, I want to thank you on behalf of the people of Bastogne for the courage and bravery of the American soldiers," said Bastogne Mayor Benoît Lutgen. "Today is the first step of great cooperation between our communities."