A parade of cadets sport camouflage pants. Their shirts read “Old Army Cock Company.” They don black-and-white face paint or pumpkins on their heads and carry torches. The formation moves through the Texas A&M University campus.
The TikTok video of this bizarre Halloween ritual, filmed by @kayli.woodward, is captioned: “It’s not a cult.”
Though it might appear to be some sort of pagan military pumpkin march, it is, in fact, a tradition the college can trace back to 1967.
Company C-2 of the Corps of Cadets at Texas A&M calls it “The Flight of the Great Pumpkin,” a reference to the 1966 cartoon It’s the Great Pumpkin, Charlie Brown.
“The juniors were always looking for things to do at the expense of the fish,” Boyd Cherry, a 1967 alum, told the school paper. “And they dreamed up the idea for a guy to run around the quad dressed up as the great pumpkin. It was just a fun diversion for kids our age to do. They were always looking for wild and crazy things, and I guess they still do it now.”
When the tradition first began, the upperclassmen would pit freshman against each other in apple bobbing contest, according to the article. Those who weren’t able to sink their teeth into autumn’s favorite fruit would be wrapped in a white sheet, topped with a jack-o’-lantern and given a flaming broom as they proceeded through a gauntlet.
The Flight of the Great Pumpkin, however, hasn’t been without controversy. Physical altercations between and the Aggie Band and Corps led to the tradition’s suspension until 2015, when the school resumed the activity with the Corps carrying out the flight and the band providing the music.
The TikTok video, which circulated on Twitter, quickly drew comparisons to the occult, as well as the 2017 Unite the Right rally in Charlottesville, Virginia.
Alumni, however, insist that the flight is meant as a bonding exercise for the Corps.
“It’s just a fun little night of competition and camaraderie in the Corps of Cadets,” Marine veteran and 2003 graduate Dusty Lee Cook told Military Times. “The entire Corps and student body usually show up to watch the fun. Long story short, when I was there, C-2 upperclass tries to fight their way into the band dorms to smash those pumpkins you see. Band freshmen keep (or try to keep) them out.”
Sarah Sicard is a Senior Editor with Military Times. She previously served as the Digital Editor of Military Times and the Army Times Editor. Other work can be found at National Defense Magazine, Task & Purpose, and Defense News.