When protesters from Westboro Baptist Church in Topeka, Kansas, announced their intent to protest the funeral of Lt. Col Roy Tisdale, held Thursday afternoon at College Station’s Central Baptist Church, one thing they didn’t count on was the loyalty and pride of the Texas Aggie family for one of their own. A group of more than 600 Aggies formed a “Maroon Wall,” as Texas Aggies surrounded the church Thursday, linked arm-in-arm, united to preserve the sanctity of a funeral for a fallen family member.
Word of the planned showing of Aggie support may well have landed square in the face of the Westboro would-be protestors. “Maroon Wall” co-organizer Ryan Slezia said Thursday night, “as of now, I can confirm zero (Westboro protestors) actually showed up at the church or burial site.” This is a substantive victory against the Westboro protestors, who have “conducted over 30,000 pickets, in all 50 states, in over 500 cities and towns,” spending an estimated $250,000 per year on picketing, according to online reports.
Aggie former student, Lt. Col. Roy Lin Tisdale died June 28, 2012 at Fort Bragg, North Carolina. He was the commanding officer of the soldier who shot him during a safety briefing for his unit, reported the New York Times. An accompanying YouTube video of a radio interview with a friend of Col. Tisdale’s shares more about the circumstances of the incident.
The solemnity of Lt. Col. Tisdale’s impending funeral and burial at the College Station Aggie Field of Honor was threatened by the pronouncement of the Westboro group’s media release, which caught the eye of Texas Aggie Class of 2008 graduate Slezia, who was “up late chatting with friends on Facebook.” Slezia reached out to his Aggie classmate, Lily McAlister, and “we were searching for other groups who were planning on being at the church, other Facebook groups, and discovered that Aggie Chris Rowan had created a Facebook page about an hour” after the Slezia-McAlister team had launched theirs.
The three Aggies ultimately joined forces and united other smaller groups in an effort to protect the funeral for Tisdale, a fellow Aggie. Slezia said, “I got in contact (with Rowan) over Facebook and we discussed merging the groups to help present a more unified message; he was amiable and I knew we would need the help of another competent leader. Rowan had already made a group with similar intent. I got him and Lily in contact, and they began working the logistics.” What resulted was the Facebook event page, The Maroon Wall.”
Ryan Slezia, is a second-year law student at the South Texas College of Law in Houston, TAMU Class of ‘08, who had to be in court in Houston today, so he called upon his friends to participate in yesterday’s show of Aggie support. Slezia said the trio “prepared their own press statement”:
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.
“Before we went ahead with our plan we were able to go through a family member and make sure that we were wanted; the response was an emphatic ‘yes,’” said Slezia. As of Thursday evening, 1,321 people had indicated their support as “attending.” Slezia indicated at least 600 people formed a silent Maroon Wall and “Charles Tisdale, Col. Tisdale’s brother, came out to the line and personally thanked a large number of the volunteers for coming.”
His online tribute notes that LTC Tisdale was in the Texas Aggie class of 1992, and had served at Fort Benning, GA, Fort Polk, LA, and Fort Bragg, NC, in addition to tours in Iraq and Afghanistan. The recipient of a tremendous number of Army commendations throughout his career, Col. Tisdale was the recipient of “the Bronze Star Medal and the Purple Heart Meritorious Service Medal.”
The Westboro media release began:“God hates America and is killing your troops in his wrath…Military funerals have become pagan orgies of idolatrous blasphemy, where they pray to the dunghill gods of Sodom and play taps to a fallen fool. This message to be preached in respectful lawful proximity to the memorial of Lt. Col. Roy L. Tisdale, Thursday July 5 at 1:15 pm, Central Baptist Church, College Station.”
Contributor-crafted resource Wikipedia, quite predictably, has an entry for the WBC protesters, which notes:
The Westboro Baptist Church (WBC) is an American Independent Baptist church known for its extreme ideologies, especially those against homosexuality, and its protest activities, which include picketing funerals of American servicement and descreating the American flag…”
Further, Wikipedia notes that the “WBC is not affiliated with any known Baptist conventions, and has been denounced by the Baptist World Alliance and the Southern Baptist Convention.”
Essentially, the WBC “congregation” appears to be comprised of its leader, Fred Phelps, and his family, totaling about 40 members. And yet, the coalition has garnered substantive media attention by targeting high-profile celebrity funerals to try and carry out their protests against homosexuality, as well as their disdain for most religious groups, including Catholics, selected Protestants, Islam, Hinduism, and Judaism, to name a few.
As hard as it is to believe that such a small group could stay in existence since 1955, and garner funds sufficient to travel the country and stage protests, moreso the past 20 years than before, it’s true. Further, in March 2011, the Huffington Post reported the “Supreme Court ruled that a grieving father’s pain over mocking protests at his Marine son’s funeral must yield to First Amendment protections for free speech. All but one justice sided with the WBC, “a fundamentalist church that has stirred outrage with raucous demonstrations contending God is punishing the military for the nation’s tolerance of homosexuality.”
Free speech seemed to have to give way to the Maroon Wall, at least for today in College Station, Texas. Slezia commended all who came out, noting “The volunteers today absolutely impressed me, especially in the Texas afternoon heat.” And, when Lt. Col. Tisdale was laid to rest, he could indeed rest in peace, as the Aggies stood outside the church walls in silence, arms linked, in unity and with respect.
The formal obituary tribute stated that “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.”
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.
[Final Note: In lieu of flowers the family has set up a memorial fund through PayPal that will help his children pay for college. You can send the money through PayPal to the following e-mail address: Jeepzero3@hotmail.com]