“I Messed With Texas and Now I Have a Rash” General Antonio López de Santa Anna
I remember the Alamo. I have seen the movie, at least a couple of them and been to the Alamo. Needless to say the actual Alamo did not live up to the movie billing.
It was on this day in 1836 that the garrison of Texans defending the outpost across from te Burger King and Walgreens in downtown San Antonio was overwhelmed by the Mexican Army. Led by William Travis, James Bowie and his brother David, Fess Parker or John Wayne playing David (Davy) Crockett the other 133 Texians as the called themselves, outnumbered and outgunned by about one million Mexican troops finally succumbed to the inevitable after a 13 day siege. They were slaughtered but the cry “Remember the Alamo!” reverberates to this day.
I always felt misled by the media about the Alamo. From my time watching Disney and John Wayne movies about the Alamo I assumed that the fortress was well out of town, preserved for the sake of posterity and surrounded by parking lots and souvenir stands. However that was not the case and I found out this bitter truth in the summer of 1983 while going through my Medical Service Corps Officer Basic Course at Fort Sam Houston.
Those were the times of the heady Reagan military build up and my class had no room to stay on the base. We were billeted in amid the squalor of the Riverwalk Marriott Hotel in downtown San Antonio. Having to take a lowest bidder Bluebird school bus to and from the base every day was a difficult task for we newly commissioned officers however, we made do.
One day I had to stay late to do some research and missed the Army bus. I had to take a city bus from the base to the hotel. However the bus did not drop me off at the hotel. It dropped me off in Centennial Square, near a large granite phallic symbol which I later learned is called a “Centopath” a now extinct life form from the late Neosporin era. As I got my bearings I noticed the Walgreens, the Burger King and the venerable Joske’s department store. But nestled among them was a small and less than impressive building. I thought to myself that “that looks like the Alamo.” However I immediately dismissed the thought because I knew from the movies and Disney TV shoes that I had seen that the Alamo was on the outskirts of town and surrounded by parking lots. I then thought, “what a stupid place to put a replica of the Alamo” and proceeded to my hotel.
When I got to my room I told my roommate, then 2nd Lieutenant Barry Mitchell, now a retired Lieutenant Colonel about my discovery of this “fake” Alamo. Barry looked at me like I had grown a third head. He knew that I was a history major. However, in my defense I studied Europe and Nazi Germany, choosing to learn my American history from the movies and the Bible like everyone else.
As I looked at the expression on his face I realized that I had been had by the media. Barry said “that is the Alamo” and I replied “but the Alamo is out of town surrounded by parking lots…” Barry looked at me and told me that indeed that this was the real Alamo. It was humiliating.
So the next weekend after I had drank too much at Dirty Nelly’s tavern on the Riverwalk I went and made pilgrimage to the Alamo. I was supervised on the tour by some women from the Daughters of the Republic of Texas, who had seen the battle in person and shepherded through the exhibits, maintaining a certain reverence for the site of this battle.
Now since then I have been to the sites of many battles in the United States, Europe and Asia and never seen a site so unremarkable as the Alamo. The fault is not that of the building, or the brave men that died defending it, but by the callousness of the citizens of San Antonio who allowed the hallowed ground to be reduced to about a city block surrounded by crappy looking commercial structures and an horrible monument.
Now the fact that the Mission building remains at all is because of these very long lived women that supervised my tour. Those brave women, who echoing the Isley Brother’s song “Fight the Powers that Be” fought the powers that be to preserve the site much as had Colonels Travis, Bowie and Crockett in 1836.
Now admittedly the Alamo holds a special place in the hearts of all that love Texas, Fess Parker and John Wayne. I will also never forget to “Remember the Alamo” but not for the reasons of so many Texas patriots. I will remember it because it wasn’t what I thought it would be.
So my friends, Remember the Alamo!