I WAS MESMERIZED by “ 96 Minutes” [August 2006]. My husband, Jim, was one of the people who offered his deer rifle to an officer, on the second story of the University United Methodist Church. He ran across the Drag, went into the building, and found the officer firing with a small pistol out the window of the Sunday school room. Jim offered the officer his rifle, and the man looked at him and said, “Son, start shooting.” And so he did.
Jim died in a plane crash in April 1967. It is very heartwarming to know that perhaps he made some small difference in this horrible tragedy that was essentially unreported, not discussed, and swept under the rug for more than forty years.
WESLEY KAYE SCHWERTNER
I WAS A GRADUATE student at the University of Texas and had just finished my master’s thesis in anthropology. I had two of the three signatures I needed. At about 11:45 I left Pearce Hall, near the Littlefield Fountain, and walked across campus, past the Tower, to the botany building. It was there that I hoped to get the last signature. As I walked across campus I heard “firecrackers” and occasionally saw puffs of smoke coming from the Tower, but like so many others that day, I never dreamed anyone was up there shooting people. When I reached the base of the Tower, I walked around the side and then casually walked into the botany building, still wondering about the firecrackers and puffs of smoke. A few minutes later someone came screaming down the hall, yelling that someone was shooting people from the Tower. At first we thought it was a joke, but the radio told us otherwise. I spent all 96 minutes that day on campus and didn’t get injured. I remain grateful that I was one of the lucky ones.
VAUGHN M. BRYANT
YOUR ARTICLE PINPOINTS my black-cloud mood every August 1. For August and part of September, when I see the Tower, I think of Whitman. Then the Longhorns win a game or two and the wonderful orange glow abates this memory. I’ve been here for 62 years, and it just makes me mad that Whitman chose Austin. For Pete’s sake, when is the next football game anyway?
KAREN R. THOMPSON
AS MY WIFE WENT to math class on August 1, 1966, at 11:15 a.m., my parents and I headed to visit the Tower’s observation deck. Campus guards at the gate denied us entrance—no campus sticker on my dad’s Suburban. I was miffed a little that we didn’t park and walk the short distance. We would have arrived at the Tower’s top within seconds, give or take, of the ill-fated Gabour family.
Instead, we opted for the museum across campus. We exited about twenty minutes later to the cacophony of gunfire—the Tower had a halo of rock dust from all the bullets striking the top. My dad suggested grabbing the guns in the car. I said flatly, “No.”
Then came a report that a pregnant student was wounded. I began worrying and decided to semicircle the Tower. The brave Claire James had lost her baby. My wife was still in her class. They were both eight months pregnant.
NEAL L. SMITH
ALTHOUGH I WAS LIVING in Lubbock, we were glued to the radio in horrified fascination. I remember the background racket—gunshots, screams, and hollering—as a radio newsman narrated the horror of it all, as if in a war zone (it was).
Given that, one thing did seize my attention: the article’s assertion that it was “the nation’s first mass murder in a public place.” The Whitman incident was predated by an even bigger one on May 18, 1927—the Bath School disaster in Michigan.
E. MARCUS BARNES
PHOTOGRAPHER DAN WINTERS should be commended for his cover photo of the UT Tower. It portrays my personal feelings about that fateful day in 1966. It was the first time in my young life that I was forced to face my own mortality. Twenty years later, to the week, our daughter graduated from UT. I had one eye on her and one eye on the Tower. The intense memories and images of that day remain with you the rest of your life.
RICHARD J. KELLY
Reyes of Hope
I WISH TO GOD we had more people (young and old) like Raul Reyes in government—local, state, and national [“ The Old College Try,” August 2006]. Is he an idealist? Sounds like it. Is he a dreamer? Absolutely. Will his dreams come true? Probably not, and he’ll probably wind up back at the gas station, working the graveyard shift. I have long since stopped trying to understand why our system seems to cast aside those who could do us the most good. I hope Reyes makes it, that he does indeed succeed in making El Cenizo the kind of community he and those who live there can look at with pride. (The smartest thing Perry and Bush could do is send somebody with clout to El Cenizo, walk up to Reyes, and say, “We’re here to help. What can we do?” Then do it.) With the money our state and federal government regularly tosses to the four winds, it would be nice