As Longhorn Band and Alumni Band members, we hold many traditions near and dear to our hearts. Here is another of the traditions that bind us together as a Longhorn Band family.
The “Passing of the President’s Ring” has been a tradition since the end of WWII when the UT class ring of former Longhorn Band Member Irwin Curtis Popham was presented to the Longhorn Band by his family.
Since that time, it has been tradition for each outgoing LHB President to present the ring to the incoming LHB President at the end of each year, symbolizing the passing of the torch from year to year. Hopefully, wearing this ring inspires each President of the Longhorn Band to continue in the spirit of the band and university that Curtis loved so much and provides an unbroken and valued link between Longhorn Bands of many eras.
Irwin Curtis Popham was born January 13, 1923. He attended Austin High and was a classmate and friend of LHAB Director Emeritus Moton Crockett.
Curtis attended the University of Texas with other members of the Class of 1943. He was a member of the Longhorn Band and served as both LHB President and Drum Major. From all accounts, Curtis loved the Longhorn Band and was active in performing and directing activities for his fellow students. The 1943 Cactus lists him as a Senior in Business Administration. Curtis also belonged to many other campus groups including Texas Cowboys, Chi Phi, KKY, Varsity Basketball, Friars, and Who’s Who.
Unfortunately, on December 7, 1941, the attack on Pearl Harbor brought the Unites States into World War II. Curtis soon became one of millions of young Americans who fought for our freedoms overseas. Curtis left UT and enlisted in the Army Air Corps, later to become the 8th Air Force, and trained to become a pilot. Curtis went on to become a 2nd Lieutenant, flying as a member of the 8th Air Force, 457th Bomber Group (Heavy), 751st Squadron, First Air Division, 94th combat wing. Based on records obtained from the American Air Museum in Peterborough, England, he was part of Crew 448.
His B-17G bomber crew was based at Glatton Airfield also known as USSAF Station 130 – home to four squadrons of B-17 Flying Fortresses. Glatton Airfield had been built by the Army Corp of Engineers near Peterborough, England to support the strategic bombing campaign over Germany.
January 13, 1945, on what was to be their final mission, Mission 173, Curtis and his crew took off from Station 130 for a bombing run to Maximiliansau, Germany. According to all final reports, their B-17 was hit by flak at an altitude of approximately 28,500 ft and exploded over Worth, Germany with all crew lost. According to Curtis’ file from the US Army, several different investigatory trips were deployed by the military, but no parts of the plane were ever discovered. In a poignant twist, January 13th was Curtis’ 22nd Birthday. According to his military records, Curtis was declared MIA for one year, until declared KIA on January 14, 1946. He was posthumously promoted to First Lieutenant, effective January 12, 1945.
Curtis’ name is listed along with his crew mates on the Wall of the Missing (Table 25 Vet 10) at Lorraine American Cemetery and Memorial, Saint-Avold in Moselle, France. According to its website, The Lorraine American Cemetery and Memorial in France covers 113.5 acres and contains the largest number of graves of our military dead of World War II in Europe, a total of 10,481.
As no remains could be returned to his family, personal belongings customarily left behind on the day of the mission were returned to his family, including his UT senior ring – class of 1943. In his personal effects, his ring was listed as returned to Curtis’ family in October of 1945. They were signed for by his father on October 29, 1945.
After the War, due to his love of the Longhorn Band, his parents donated his UT Senior Ring to the Longhorn Band. According to our 1996 Band Day Program the original ring was lovingly restored by LHAB in 1995. Soon afterwards, it was decided that it had become too worn and brittle to be worn on a daily basis and was kept in a safe deposit box, taken out only for the LHB Awards Banquet each year. In the summer of 1996, funds were donated by past presidents of the Longhorn Alumni Band to create an exact replica of Curtis’ ring so that the tradition of keeping and wearing it could be renewed. ArtCarved Jewelers of Austin agreed to reproduce his ring at a greatly reduced price and it was presented at the Band Day Reunion in October 1996. The original is stored in a safe deposit box. Here is a letter signed by Curtis’ Mother after Mr. DiNino invited the Popham family to the LHB Band Banquet in 1956.
The University of Texas and Longhorn Band are rooted in countless traditions and historic events. High standards of achievement are at the foundation of these institutions. The most important and lasting of all band traditions are the ever-present pride and spirit. The “Showband of the Southwest”, the largest organization on The University of Texas campus, is the backbone of school spirit on campus. Its story has mirrored the evolution of the University itself. To many of us, the history of the ring and the story of Curtis’ service during WWII is a sober reminder of the years in which both the United States and The University of Texas were focused on preserving the freedoms we can now debate and discuss. Curtis’ story echoes the efforts of so many other LHB members through the years, and we can all be proud of many of our LHB brothers and sisters who have fought over the decades for our many freedoms.
Many thanks to Cathy Bruce Purdy for invaluable research and providing great insights and photos to supplement the archive information. Thanks to Sara Beth Purdy for photos of the original ring.
Below you will find other resources if you are interested in more information about the people and places noted in this archives story.
Barbara Childs Helbert, LHB 65-69 Archives Chair LHAB