Small ceremony, big tradition, intense emotion, immeasurable respect.
That was the scene Wednesday evening at the Marco Island cemetery when former Texas A&M graduate and United States Coast Guard officer Richard Heinrich conducted a solo version of the time-honored “Aggie Muster.”
It is a gathering observed annually more or less at the same time on April 21 by thousands of the college’s alumni to remember classmates who’ve died ... and in Heinrich’s case, classmates who died in action.
With no big fuss or fanfare, Heinrich spoke to a handful of invited people, including his wife Marcia, A&M graduates Nancy and Michael Richie and their daughter Camille, and cemetery manager Victoria Wilson, her husband Michael and their toddler Christopher.
Standing in front of the cemetery’s armed forces memorial, Heinrich formally introduced himself to the group, recited Psalm 23 and then spoke a little about the muster tradition before having cemetery manager Wilson read out the names of his fallen comrades.
As she did so, Heinrich answered “here” on their behalf, and lit a candle for each of them. All, he said, had died during the Vietnam war.
“When you’ve been to high school and college with them, and you’ve played football with them, you’ve got to know them quite well,” Heinrich said with a hint of moisture in his eyes.
After the ceremony, Heinrich displayed his heavy gold graduation ring, which he remembers cost about $35 at the time.
“You had to apply for the ring within 30 hours of graduating, and the registrar had to certify that,” Heinrich said.
Richie, who is the city’s environmental specialist, studied marine biology as an Aggie, and her husband studied marine transportation. He is a merchant marine ship’s captain.
It is the first time Heinrich has participated in a solo muster, and he plans a repeat next year at the same time.
“I thought he was going to cry at one stage,” said his wife Marcia. “I know he was moved by it.”