Book tells about hero Earl Rudder
After the war and a stint as mayor of Brady, northwest of Austin, Rudder was appointed Texas Land Commissioner in the wake of a scandal, and then elected.
Three years later, he was named to head Texas A&M College, his alma mater. He oversaw making it co-ed, and removing compulsory military training.
Scaling Point du Hoc was fairly straightforward. All he and his men had to do was land on the beach, go 100 feet straight up a sheer cliff with German soldiers shooting at them, wipe out some machine gun nests and six long guns that threatened the success of the whole mission, and kill or capture Germans.
“How did we do this?” Rudder marveled on a visit to Pointe du Hoc years later. “It was crazy then, and it’s crazy now.”
Restoring the General Land Office after a scandal in the Veteran’s Land Program, and removing compulsory corps and adding co-eds at A&M, weren’t as life-threatening as climbing a cliff with people trying to kill you. But they required political and leadership skills to overcome the problems that brought him there in the first place.
This straightforward former Aggie football star, whose pre-war jobs were as a teacher/coach at Brady High School and then football coach at Tarleton State University, is the subject of an impressively well-researched book just out from Texas A&M University Press. “Rudder: From Leader to Legend” was written by Dr. Tom Hatfield, a military historian whose specialty is World War II.
(Disclosure: Hatfield is a personal friend.)
Hatfield earned bachelor’s degree from the University of Texas at Austin and Trinity University, and his MA and PhD at UT, where he served three decades as dean of Continuing Education. Earlier, he was the first president of Austin Community College. Hatfield now directs the Military History Institute in UT’s the Dolph Briscoe Center for American History.
Rudder’s lone degree was from A&M in 1932 – a bachelor’s in industrial education. After becoming its leader, his goal was to make it a top research institution.
Among obstacles were “many young men with the potential of becoming good Aggies did not want to go to an all-male school where hazing was prevalent and military training was required,” Hatfield told Texas Aggie, the school’s alumni magazine. “I was one of them.”
Rudder, noted for sharing the same risks on the battlefield as his troops, showed the same determination in his vision “to put A&M on a path to greatness,” Hatfield said. Rudder once defined courage as the “ability to do the right thing regardless of what’s happening.”
A&M’s directors asked for a nationwide study of land-grant colleges to evaluate its reputation. The report, from Aggie alum Durwood B. “Woody” Varner, was on Rudder’s desk when he took over.
Varner’s main point: A&M “is not highly regarded,” and “no one would say it is a first-class institution.”
He outlined six reasons: required military training, hazing, all-male student body (the only land grant college in the nation without women), underpaid and deficient faculty, too much emphasis on the corps and athletic department, and “Old Army Aggies” – alums bent on preserving “traditions and memories” rather than working for changes to make A&M first-class.
The timing was superb, Hatfield said. While Rudder was determined to improve the quality of education, John Connally was elected governor in 1962, with improving higher education his main priority. Lyndon Johnson of Texas became President of the United States in 1963 -- “striving to go down in history as the ‘education president’,” Hatfield said.
Rudder knew both men quite well.
His wife, Margaret “Chick” Williamson, was friends with two future governors of Texas from student government at UT: Allan Shivers, who as governor had named Rudder land commissioner, and Connally.
Rudder had headed LBJ’s 1948 U.S. Senate campaign in McCulloch County, even though his opponent – former Gov. Coke Stevenson – hailed from nearby Kimble County. LBJ, who won the Democratic primary by a highly disputed 87 votes, won McCulloch County by 216 votes.
And, Rudder’s 1932 Aggie classmate, Olin “Tiger” Teague, was on key committees in Congress.
Suddenly, A&M -- and UT -- enjoyed a huge boost in state and federal money for higher education and research. That in turn spun off private-sector computer research and development.
Rudder died in 1970.
For the D-Day anniversary celebration at Pointe du Hoc June 6, Hatfield led a tour, as he has several times. This was special: He was accompanied by several Rudder family members.
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