Friends describe Bryan McClain as kindhearted and helpful, willing to give of himself to others.
McClain was one of 12 students killed in the 1999 Texas A&M Bonfire collapse. Will Haley, an A&M graduate in the class of 2002, was McClain’s “fish buddy” in the Corps of Cadets, one of his best friends during their first year at A&M. The young men experienced struggles together and felt unified “in the foxhole” of being a freshman at the bottom of the Corps’ ranks, Haley said.
Among McClain’s Aggieland loves were the Dixie Chicken and country music, Haley said. He would often blast music out the windows of his truck on the way to Bonfire cut events. McClain introduced Haley to the music of Willie Nelson and Johnny Cash and convinced Haley to attend a Nelson concert. Haley still associates Nelson’s version of Whiskey River with his fish buddy.
Many of McClain’s high school friends attended A&M, Haley said. He used these relationships to introduce his cadet friends to other social circles.
“He was outspoken, funny and kind of a natural born leader,” Haley said. “He was the guy we took social cues from, and someone we looked up to. ... He might have helped me come out of my shell a little bit.”
McClain was raised by his parents, Phil and Kathy, in San Antonio. Attempts to reach his parents for this story were unsuccessful. McClain’s cousin Brett Gass said in a recent interview that McClain was “a really selfless guy. He had a really big heart.”
According to a 1999 article by Jason Spencer in the Austin American-Statesman, McClain attended Madison High School, earning good grades and excelling on the swim team, on which he served as team captain. A 2004 Eagle article noted that McClain worked at his community pool as a lifeguard and swimming instructor during his high school years.
In the Eagle article, McClain’s girlfriend, Jennifer Jose, told a story illustrating McClain’s kindness toward children. Jose said that she invited him to oversee a children’s birthday party, during which the boys would not dance with the girls. McClain stepped forward and twirled the girls on the dance floor, bringing joy to each as they lined up to dance with him.
The Statesman noted that in 1998, during his senior year at Madison High, McClain drove to College Station to watch Bonfire burn the night before A&M took on the University of Texas.
“The vibrant school spirit at the event increased the teen’s enthusiasm for the school, which he chose to attend after graduating,” the story stated.
McClain studied entomology at A&M and joined the Corps of Cadets’ Squadron 2, A&M’s oldest Air Force outfit. Shortly after McClain’s death, his picture was hung in the White Hall dormitory used by Squadron 2. He also was honored by his hometown: San Antonio’s Bryan McClain Park, located just blocks from the Aggie’s old high school, was dedicated on Nov. 17, 2001, according to the city website.
Gass said his final memory of McClain was a month before the Bonfire collapse. He participated in a Corps recruiting event and stayed with McClain. A Bonfire event was included, in which students cut trees and cleared brush. Gass describes it as “the experience of a lifetime.”
“They treated me just like a fish in the Corps of Cadets that weekend, and I had the time of my life,” he said. “By the end of the day I was covered head to toe in mud and sawdust. I still cherish those memories. That was the kind of guy he was. He wanted everyone to feel included, and ensured that with his friendly smile and demeanor. That’s the way I like to remember him.”