Sign In | Create an Account | Welcome, . My Account | Logout | Subscribe | Submit News | Home RSS

Where Heroes Once Stood

March 6, 2019

Growing up in the 1950s, I remember the coming of television into our home. For television and me, we kind of started out together. I will have to say stories on TV gave me my prospective on the world. Occasionally today I see an old TV program from back in the 50s. I now realize how much fantasy was written into the scripts of the shows I watched. Television programmers wanted the guys in the white hats to win over the bad guys and Indians. Looking back at those early days of television, I realized how many of my misconceptions of history were ingrained into my young mind.

Every Sunday evening I would wait by the TV for my favorite program, The Magical World of Disney. I sat in front of our television and learned about American legends Pecos Bill, Paul Bunyan and John Henry. I don't think they teach kids about American legends these days. Probably too silly, I guess, when compared with real legends who live under the sea and wear square pants. I also learned about our country's history. Some heroes were fictional, such as Zorro. But the television series told of the early days in California's history. Do you remember the Swamp Fox? He was a real life Revolutionary war hero. His story was also part of Disney's Adventure Series. These programs were part of my early education into our country's history.

Looking back, there was one frontier hero that I identified with, Davy Crocket. He stood tall, wearing his coonskin cap and carrying his rifle named "Old Betsy." Fess Parker is still the face of Davy when I think about the legendary hero even today. Without the Disney TV series I am not sure I would have known who Davy was. Disney first aired this television series in 1955. There were three episodes in the mini-series - Davy Crockett, Indian Fighter; Davy Crockett goes to Congress. And the one I remember the most is Davy Crockett goes to the Alamo. Those three films gave me my total understanding of the legendary frontiersman. Everything in the shows must be true, otherwise they could not have put it on the television.

The movie was written to show the very best of the legendary frontiersman. But there was no way around the fact that the hero of the Alamo was going to die at the movie's end. How to tell the story and not show Davy being killed on the screen? Movie viewers would see Davy fighting to the end as this image faded from the screen with heroic music playing. No film producer of the day wanted to show him being killed. Those were my recollections of Davy and his life. At that point, that was enough information, and I was satisfied with history's account as told on television.

That was until 1969, 50 years ago this fall when I joined the Air Force. That choice would take me from the valley and send me to basic training in San Antonio, Texas. By this point in my life, I had kind of forgotten about Fess Parker in his coonskin cap, fighting his way into history. I was nearing completion of my basic training when on Christmas Day, 1969, I was given a day pass to go downtown in San Antonio. I should mention the same pass was given to thousands of other young men and women. A day away from the regimented training was welcomed. The trip downtown helped me to forget for the first time I was not home for Christmas.

As the bus stopped in downtown I quickly realized the streets were filled with thousands of people in blue uniforms. Following the crowd, I soon saw something that took me back to my childhood. It was the Alamo. I am not sure if I was drawn toward the old mission by my remembrance of Fess Parker's Alamo, or was my interest in history coming to life? I was surprised to see how well preserved the front of the building was. I remember the story, thousands of Mexican soldiers attacking the mission and killing all inside. Surely there must be lots of bullet and cannon shell holes. But, remarkably, the building was in good shape.

Going inside, I read historical accounts of the battle .I may have thought of Fess Parker's movie, realizing the images on television were not completely accurate. Within the old mission's walls, the story of the Alamo's defenders was preserved by what is known from written accounts and soldiers journals.

If you are wondering, I will tell you the history as I have come to know it. On February 23, 1836 General Antonio Lpez de Santa Anna's army arrived at the Alamo mission. Over the next 12 days the remainder of his army surrounded the mission. I could not find much about fighting during those 12 days except the Mexican army shelled the walls of the Alamo with cannon fire. It is believed the defenders could have left the mission before the army arrived or even during the 12 days the army assembled. Some believe they would not leave, hoping General Sam Houston would arrive with his army and drive Santa Anna back to Mexico. But most historians think they stayed because they were fighting for something they each believed in. One thing is for sure, during the 12 days of waiting for the attack each of the defenders must have known what was coming. Before dawn on March 6, 1836, Santa Anna's army attacked the Alamo. The defenders repelled the Mexican army's advance not once, but twice. But on the third massive attack the Alamo fell. Accounts from soldier's journals indicate six or seven defenders survived the attacks. Some historians believe the journals also tell Davy Crockett was one of the survivors. Shortly after capture, Santa Anna ordered the defenders to be killed, which they were. Was Davy Crockett one of the men? That question will be debated as long as people remember the Alamo.

Did you ever wonder where the defenders of the Alamo came from? They were a mixture from nearly every state in the union. Nineteen by my count. Another fact overlooked by history is the number from other countries. Men came from Scotland, England, Ireland, Germany and Denmark. Some were Mexican citizens wanting freedom from Mexico's harsh rule at the time.

My visit to the Alamo 50 years ago began my interest of looking beyond the pages of books or Hollywood movies. For a true historian, the hardest part is getting past those who want to rewrite history to fit their side of the story. Today, in our countr,y there are those who want to rewrite history not to improve its accuracy, but change history to their way of thinking. Our country's history is not perfect and is sometimes messy. But that history is why we are here today for its retelling.

On this day, 183 years ago, the brave defenders of the Alamo passed into history. They didn't sacrifice themselves for the title of hero. I choose to believe they gave their lives in the belief of something bigger than themselves. They must have understood their sacrifice was for freedom for a people and a land known as Texas. A freedom they would never know. In 1969, I stood where Heroes once stood. That memory for me is worth looking back Through the Lens.



I am looking for:
News, Blogs & Events Web