The Photographer’s Letters offer a first-hand account of 1946 Corregidor Muster
On a faded sheet of paper dated April 22, 1946, a line drawing of a saluting cadet is stamped in the upper left corner above the words “tall talk from ted”. Below, James “Ted” Danklefs ’43’s neat cursive script describes the events of the previous afternoon, which he spent on the small island of Corregidor in the Philippines.
“Dear Mom and Dad, Well the ‘Muster’ is over and it was a very great occasion,” he wrote, recalling how “about 135 of us plus the Manila International Male Chorus and a few visitors miscellaneous” had taken boats to the island. to remember the Aggies who had died defending it a few years earlier during World War II. “I have lots of photos, but just of Malinta Tunnel and nearby.”
Of the many photos Danklefs took during the 1946 Aggie Muster on Corregidor, one in particular would go on to become one of the most famous images in Texas A&M history – and one of the most widely recognizable depictions. of this long Aggie tradition.
Danklefs kept an extensive record of his time in the military through hundreds of letters and photos he sent to his parents. Back in Texas, his mother saved everything, keeping meticulous records that would later be passed on to his wife, Iris Danklefs.
Upon his death in 2019, Danklefs’ children opened a box in one of his closets and rediscovered scrapbooks filled with these communications, including a variety of letters discussing Corregidor Muster and Danklefs’ 1946 efforts to document the ‘event.
“When we sold his house and cleaned everything up, we found the albums and really started digging into what was in them,” Danklefs’ daughter Donna Kent ’79 said.
The family previously donated a box of these discs in 2007 to Texas A&M’s Cushing Memorial Library and Archives. But these latest discoveries in 2019 have prompted a renewed effort to catalog and analyze Danklefs’ remaining photos and letters, Kent said.
The family archives help add color and context to a tale that is now deeply embedded in Aggie lore.
Capturing the historic moment
In the famous photo taken by Danklefs on Corregidor, a group of uniformed men, some holding Texas flags, huddle at the mouth of a tunnel with a large “Block T” flag unfurled behind them. As a child, Holly Reedy ’11 often stared at this black-and-white photo hanging on the wall above the television in her grandmother’s kitchen.
Danklefs died before Reedy was born. So for her, looking at the photo was a way to connect with the grandfather she never had the chance to know. Before learning the meaning of the image, she simply knew that “Grandpa Danklefs had taken it”.
“Every party, every birthday, it was kind of like he was almost there with us because we saw him at every special occasion,” Reedy said. “I don’t think I really understood the magnitude of what that picture meant until I was a student at A&M.”
In 1942, four years before the now famous gathering was held and the iconic photo taken, Corregidor was besieged by Japanese forces. American and Filipino soldiers fought to hold the last Allied stronghold in the Philippines and prevent Japan from gaining full access to Manila Bay. The heavily fortified Malinta Tunnel served as a base of operations, providing much-needed refuge from the relentless artillery barrage.
On April 21 of this year – long observed as a day the Aggies come together and celebrate the anniversary of the Battle of San Jacinto – Brig. General George F. Moore ’08 commissioned Major Tom Dooley ’35 to compile a list of Aggies on the island. There were 27.
Corregidor fell to Japanese forces just two weeks later, but the 1942 roll call story – which was quickly embellished by some creative journalists – became an inspiration to the weary United States. by war, cementing the tradition of Muster in the popular imagination. for the coming years.
“Every party, every birthday, it was kind of like he was almost there with us because we saw him on every special occasion. I don’t think I really understood the magnitude of what that picture meant until ’til I’m a student at A&M.
By the time 1946 arrived, the war was over and Japan had withdrawn from the Philippines for good. In March, Danklefs and others began discussing the idea of a second Aggie Muster on Corregidor – a celebration to honor those who had defended the island in 1942.
The first ideas for the gathering are detailed in one of the letters Kent, Danklefs’ daughter, found in the family archives.
“In a letter, it is written: ‘We have decided to do this. It’s going to be a hell of a task, but we’re up to it,” she said.
A letter distributed by the Manila A&M Club quickly spread the word: “You better turn around APRIL 21st on your calendar because it’s the day the VICTORY MUSTER will take place on Corregidor. A postscript at the bottom instructed the reader to “forward the additional copy to another AGGIE”.
According to Kent, Danklefs himself sent invitations to high-ranking officers, including Brig. General Moore and Lieutenant General Wilhelm Styer. He even sent one to the Allied commander, Douglas MacArthur, for good measure.
MacArthur’s answer, which would eventually be read at the ’46 Muster, is now part of Aggie’s legend. He asked the men to answer the roll call “in a clear and firm voice” for the Texas A&M sons who died on Corregidor in 1942.
The event took a lot of planning and, as the letters reveal, there were plenty of stumbling blocks. But in the end, the ’46 Muster was a success, with over 100 Aggies singing songs, socializing and holding each other in memory of those who had come before.
Throughout the festivities, Danklefs took pictures with his camera, including several shots of the participants gathered at the mouth of the Malinta Tunnel. Luckily for the intrepid photographer, his camera was fitted with a timer, allowing him to join fellow servicemen in the photo that would become famous decades later.
A lasting reminder
After the event, Danklefs wanted to make sure no one would forget the day spent on Corregidor. Kent said her grandfather and a few pals quickly retreated to a dark room they made themselves to make copies of the group photo for every Aggie who was there.
It would take some time for the photo to be elevated from a personal keepsake to one of Aggie Muster’s most well-known portrayals.
According to Danklefs’ children, this process likely began when, shortly before his death, Danklefs shared the photo with author and historian John A. Adams Jr. ’73, who included it in his 1979 book “We are the Aggies”. Many years later, the Danklefs family would see how iconic Ted’s photo had become.
“It was probably only in the 2000s, I was at an A&M football game and then, ‘Hey, there’s my dad’s picture on the Jumbotron,'” Ken Danklefs ’82 said. “It started to hit home then.”
Today, the photo and the story behind it remain key parts of A&M lore, appearing in numerous articles, videos and postings about Aggie Muster’s history and importance. An exhibit at the Alumni Association’s Clayton W. Williams Jr. Alumni Center features a large print of the photo and a display case housing the Aggie rings of many of the Corregidor Muster attendees.
Ken Danklefs said if his father could see what happened to his picture he would probably be hesitant to take credit for it – but happy to see the story of the 1946 Corregidor Muster lives on to this day .
“I think it was something he loved doing,” Ken Danklefs said. “He enjoyed the early stages of this Aggie network, being overseas with other Aggies. I think it was very special for him.
For the Danklefs family Aggies — there are 12, in fact — the photo of those servicemen gathered in front of the Malinta Tunnel serves as a lasting reminder of what makes Texas A&M so special.
“There are so many cousins, and my mom and uncle, who all attended A&M,” Reedy said. “It’s a reminder of our core Aggie values and how these gentlemen really took them to heart.”