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Remembering Bonfire: West focused on faith, school

Remembering Bonfire: West focused on faith, school

From the Twenty years later: Remembering Bonfire series
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While back from Texas A&M on winter break during his freshman year in December 1998, Nathan Scott West wore his Corps of Cadets uniform to his home congregation, Bellaire United Methodist Church near Houston. The congregation, full of Aggies, feted one of its beloved sons. 

About a year later, hundreds would gather at the same church to mourn and remember him. Scott, as he was nearly always called, was one of 12 Aggies to die in the Bonfire tragedy on Nov. 18, 1999.

Richard West, Scott’s father, said that Scott was proud to be an Aggie and to be in the Corps. His son’s goal was to go into the military upon graduating from A&M. A 19-year-old sophomore when he died, he was a member of C-2 Company after spending his first year in the Corps as part of Squadron 5.

In a recent interview from Wylie, northeast of Dallas, Richard reflected on the upcoming 20th anniversary of his son’s death.

“I don’t really know that the time means a whole lot,” he said. “When you lose somebody like that, you lose a portion of your family, and you lose what life would have been like.”

Richard and his wife, Janiece, relocated from the Houston area to be closer to their daughter, Kristin, and their three grandchildren.

“We spend a lot of time hanging out with the grandkids and doing that kind of thing,” he said. “You really never know what would have happened — you like to think that Scott would have gotten married and had kids, too.”

Scott earned the rank of Eagle Scout, and participated in U.M. Army, a United Methodist youth outreach organization. Scott’s Christian faith was central to his life, Richard said.

“He worked often on the little Volkswagen he was restoring — which never really ran right, but he was working on it,” Richard said with a laugh. “But school, church and Scouts really took up most of his time.”

When Scott called home, Richard said the conversation would begin the same way almost every time.

“I’d answer the phone and he’d say, ‘Hi, Dad, it’s me, Scott.’ And I’d say, ‘Scott, I recognize your voice,’” Richard recalled with a laugh.

An honor roll student in high school, Scott knew that he wanted to go to A&M. His parents insisted that he also consider other options as well.

“We pretty much had to force him to apply to other universities,” Richard said. “He didn’t want to. Scott had his sights set on going to A&M for a long time.”

Richard said his family had been supported well by the university and by the A&M community at large. His daughter, Kristin, began her studies at A&M the year after Scott died, and graduated in December 2004. Kristin’s words of remembrance are part of Scott’s portal at the Bonfire Memorial: “Thanks for teaching me the true meaning of Aggie Spirit and what life is about. I love you.” The memorial also includes words from Janiece and from other family members and friends.

Richard attends the annual Bonfire Remembrance event at A&M each November, and said he is amazed how many people attend “at zero dark thirty in the night.”

“It dawns on you that the people out there now, many of the students weren’t even alive when this happened, so it’s ancient history to them, but it’s still current history to you,” he said. “The culture has changed and the people have changed, but still, we really appreciate the support we’ve gotten from the university over the years and from the students at the university.”

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As the early morning Bonfire Remembrance Ceremony dissipated, several members of the Texas A&M Corps of Cadets’ Squadron 16 waited in line for a hug from Janice Kerlee. Kerlee’s son, Timothy Doran Kerlee Jr., was one of 12 Aggies killed 20 years ago in the Bonfire collapse. Kerlee said she appreciates the opportunity to hug and briefly visit with the current members of her late son’s squadron, along with other attendees.

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