Annexed by Texas A&M
Five Aggies from the Class of 1953 recall their freshman “fish” year at “The Annex,” known today as RELLIS.
- Written by Alyssa Johnson '20
- Jan. 11, 20218 min read
Back in Old Army days, Texas A&M University’s RELLIS Campus served more than one purpose. During World War II, it was an Army Air Corps airfield. At the end of World War II, the college experienced a surge of incoming students and could not accommodate housing and classroom space for such a large number. The G.I. Bill and former students’ positive testimonials contributed to this drastic increase in enrollment. In 1946, the extreme shortage of housing and classroom space led the administration to lease the deactivated Bryan Army Air Field’s facilities. Freshmen cadets were sent to the site to spend their first year at what became “The Annex,” known today as RELLIS. It became the first home for Aggies in the Classes of 1950 to 1953.
In total, more than 5,500 Aggies occupied the single-story, tarpaper barracks before transferring to the main campus to complete their tenure at Texas A&M. Each barracks housed 20 students, lacked air conditioning and featured shared bathroom facilities; a single mess hall provided space for meals. During its existence, The Annex produced more than 4,000 military officers, 18 distinguished alumni, 28 general officers, seven presidents of The Association of Former Students and two regents for The Texas A&M University System. Its current name stands for the university’s six core values: respect, excellence, leadership, loyalty, integrity and selfless service. A plaque on the RELLIS Campus details the site’s history and honors all Aggies who lived there.
Here are five Aggie stories about life at The Annex.
Gaston “Red” Detweiler ’53
“I can still picture the row of World War II barracks into each of which were squeezed 20 freshmen “Fish” cadets. It was basic housing, with forced air heating but no air conditioning. If you needed to use the toilet or take a shower, the facilities building was about 60 feet away. When the weather was nice, it was tolerable. However, on a cold winter night, it was a trip to be avoided. The lucky ones had a warm bathrobe, but most of us just ran as fast as we could.
Forced comradeship established irreplaceable connections and permanent friendships that last to this day. In military formation, we marched to meals, drilled and experienced the cadet life. Academics came easy for me and I had a lot of leisure time, which I mostly spent playing tennis. This resulted in me and my tennis partner winning the freshmen doubles tennis championship for that year. As I reflect on The Annex's new name, RELLIS, I am in awe of its significance. These core values are the very foundation of what it means to be an Aggie. I would not be the man I am today without Texas A&M or my time at The Annex.”
Detweiler received his undergraduate degree in electrical engineering and joined General Electric as a test engineer. Later, he served in the Army Signal Corps and worked for Collins Radio Co. in Dallas. He continued his education and pursued a master’s in electrical engineering at Southern Methodist University. As a Heritage Member in the A&M Legacy Society, Detweiler has given back to Texas A&M through a planned gift that will provide scholarships to students pursuing an undergraduate degree in electrical and computer engineering. After his retirement, he volunteered by teaching literacy, served as president of the Bonaventure Condominium Association and is the current Class Agent for the Class of 1953.
Jim Keblinger ’53
“There were many highs and lows. Within the first few days, three out of the seven boys from my town left. By the end, only two of us remained. Half of us were from small towns and the other half from big cities. My bunk was third from the back, and my bunkmate was a cowboy who had never owned shoes prior to his ROTC-issued pair. The big-city cadets were well-ahead of the small-town students. Despite our backgrounds, we blended as a unit and created lifetime friendships. Living in such tight quarters, we discovered everyone has more in common than we originally thought. Learning to work and get along with a diverse set of people is invaluable. I owe my success to my time at The Annex and Texas A&M; I would not trade it for anything.”
After graduating with a degree in range and forestry, Keblinger dedicated his life to serving others. He joined the U.S. Air Force as a Security Service Communications Officer before spending most of his career as a research chemist for Shell Oil Co. With his late wife, Carol, his service extended to providing students the chance to attend Texas A&M by funding an Endowed Opportunity Award scholarship for graduates of Cypress Creek High School in Houston, where she taught for many years. He later created a second Endowed Opportunity Award, which serves Jasper High School graduates in Jasper, Texas, his hometown.
Dr. Billy “Bill” Lay '53
“I think they put us there because they ran out of room and had to separate the upper and lower classmen. Hazing had become quite the issue, and drown outs, where we would get drenched by a bucket of water, were common. We had 10 bunk beds to fit 20 of us in the tarpaper barracks. During my time in the band, my buddies and I learned the importance of taking care of one another. We enjoyed meeting people and being exposed to new situations. When I look back at how Texas A&M has grown, I am in awe of its exponential increase in size. There were approximately 8,000 of us back then, and it has been incredible to see that number explode!”
Education was Lay’s passion, and he began teaching in the classroom after graduation. In 1955, his time at Texas A&M came full circle when he was called to active duty as a Second Lieutenant at Bryan Air Force Base, his freshman stomping grounds. There, he served as an administrative officer and kept records of all cadets and their performance. After seven years in the Air Force, he returned to public school teaching. Upon completing his graduate studies, he spent 22 years as Texas A&M’s director of admissions. In honor of their daughters, who are also public educators, he and his wife, Mary ’78, established the Karan Wester ’77, Mary Jane Petty ’83 and Kathryn Smith ’87 Global Study Scholarship. This will support students pursuing a teaching certification in the College of Education and Human Development. During his retirement, he continues his passion by tutoring math and reading to elementary students in the College Station area.
Dr. Bob McLemore ’53
Editor's note: Following his interview but prior to the publishing of this article, Dr. Bob McLemore ’53 passed away on Oct. 1, 2019 from COVID-19.
“I lived at The Annex for nine months and received an Opportunity Award scholarship that paid $100 per semester. I grew up without electricity, so I thought the barracks were quite the upgrade! The mess hall was my second home at The Annex. I worked there for 40 cents an hour and fed 1,200 people in 30 minutes. Talk about a production line; Henry Ford had not seen anything! I recall the head cook reprimanding me because I flipped sheet cake slices over like pancakes, which ruined the icing. I was not adept at using a spatula! Innovative individuals found new ways to issue drown outs. They positioned waste baskets above the bed and designated someone to pull the rope attached. I will not repeat the numerous expletives that were exclaimed! Because we suffered together, we bonded and made everlasting friendships. Younger generations could not have tolerated it; we were trailblazers.”
The youngest of nine children, McLemore received his undergraduate degree in plant science and joined the U.S. Army as a 2nd Lieutenant. After his service in Korea, he spent 30 years in the Army Reserves and 30 years in the U.S. Forest Service as a research scientist. In 1987, he retired and, today, enjoys spending time with his family. McLemore resides in his hometown of Jasper, Texas.
Ret. Brig. Gen. Charles M. “Red” Scott Jr. ’53
“We knew that we were the final group of ‘fish’ to be housed at The Annex. Being out there was very much a companionship building experience. Cadets came from every corner of Texas, and we made it our mission to work together as a society. The massive congregation of city and country boys made up 13 company-size units. At the end of each day, 20 of us piled into the tarpaper World War II barracks for some shut eye. There were a few undergraduates with wives, and they lived in their own designated areas. It was a friendly, natural atmosphere for meeting people and understanding what the other guys were going through. We all engaged in good bull and innocent fun. I was on the Fish Drill Team, and we drilled on the airfield ramp. It is important for Aggies today to know about the evolution of The Annex and how it served Texas A&M for years.”
With a bachelor’s degree in electrical engineering, Scott initially worked for the Texas Electric Service Co. in Fort Worth, Texas. From May 1954 to September 1956, he was called to active duty in the U.S. Army and assigned to a parachute field artillery battalion in the 82nd Airborne Division. Later, he accrued more than 3,200 hours of helicopter pilot time and served as the Assistant Adjutant General for the state of Arizona, while being promoted to Brigadier General. After his initial active service, he was employed by Sperry Gyroscope Company in the aviation electronics field. He retired as the director of OEM Marketing for Sperry’s Avionics Division. He currently resides in Litchfield Park, Arizona.