After Lt. Col Roy Tisdale, a Texas A&M alum, passed away on June 28th following being shot during a training exercise at Fort Bragg, the A&M community began to grieve for the loss of a loved member of the Aggie family. However, when news of Westboro Baptist Church’s intentions to picket the funeral of the decorated soldier reached the community, several Aggies decided to organize a silent human “Maroon Wall” to surround College Station’s Central Baptist Church and preserve the sanctity of the funeral for the fallen commanding officer and his family.
Ryan Slezia, a co-organizer of the “Maroon Wall” and a 2008 graduate of Texas A&M, created the event on Facebook with several other alums and classmates after he saw Westboro’s announcement. The fundamentalist church, an anti-gay hate group, claims that “war casualties are divine revenge for America tolerating gays and lesbians” and has long protested at the funerals of celebrities, soldiers, and others with messages such as “Pray For More Dead Soldiers.” Ultimately, over 600 Aggies arrived in the blistering Texas summer heat to link arm-in-arm in a heartening display of loyalty and compassion.
In the end, no Westboro members were spotted at the funeral or the burial site, possibly deciding to forgo the protest after hearing about the human wall.
According to the press statement written by Ryan Slezia and his two other co-organizers, Lily McAlister and Chris Rowan, the Texas A&M community acted to allow one of their community members be laid to rest in respect and peace:
The purpose of “The Maroon Wall” event is to show our support and gratitude to the family of Lt Col. Roy Tisdale and to join them in honoring his memory at his memorial service and funeral. We are standing to honor the memory of Lt Col. Roy Tisdale and the sacrifices both he and his family have made for this country along with the contributions they have made to this community. We stand together as a show of solidarity towards this family in their time of mourning and in defense of their right to grieve their loss in peace.
Following the events of the funeral, Tisdale’s family added a statement to his formal obituary tribute:
Lt. Col. Roy Lin Tisdale is survived by his wife Kim, his children Megan and Roy Lane Tisdale, his mother Linda Tisdale, brother SFC Charles D. Tisdale, USA, father-in-law, Jim Corbett, brothers-in-law Steven Corbett, Jason Corbett, and their families…and countless friends.”
Dawn Lee Wakefield commented on the incident for the Examiner.com:
As of the afternoon of July 5, 2012, it can be added that Lt. Col. Roy Lin Tisdale, Texas Aggie Class of ’92, is survived by the Maroon Wall, a tribute symbolic of the love, respect and honor of former students for their fellow Aggie. No better example can be found of just what it means to be part of the Texas Aggie family. The most powerful statement of all against hate was made, in complete, reverent silence.