Tuesday, April 22, 2014

San Jacinto Day

"Lone Star Historian 2" is a blog about the travels and activities of the State Historian of Texas during his second year. Bill O'Neal was appointed to a two-year term by Gov. Rick Perry on August 22, 2012, at an impressive ceremony in the State Capitol. Bill is headquartered at Panola College (www.panola.edu) in Carthage, where he has taught since 1970. For more than 20 years Bill conducted the state's first Traveling Texas History class, a three-hour credit course which featured a 2,100-mile itinerary. In 2000 he was awarded a Piper Professorship, and in 2012 he received the Lifetime Achievement Award from the Wild West Historical Association. Bill has published over 40 books, almost half about Texas history subjects, and in 2007 he was named Best Living Non-Fiction Writer by True West Magazine. In 2013 he was awarded an honorary Doctor of Letters degree by his alma mater, Texas A&M University - Commerce. 

On April 21, 1836, an outnumbered, ragtag, undersupplied Texan army routed Mexican forces commanded by General Antonio Lopez de Santa Anna. The spectacular Texan victory won independence from Mexico and long has been celebrated as a special date in the Lone Star State. In March 1936, the centennial of the battleground was broken for the San Jacinto Monument. Dedicated on April 21, 1939, the monument towers 567 feet (12 feet taller than the Washington Monument) and is topped by a 220-ton star. An elevator gives access to an observation gallery, and the San Jacinto Museum occupies the base. This splendid edifice is the site for an annual "Official Texas State Ceremony Commemorating the Anniversary of the Battle of San Jacinto." A few months ago I was invited by Nancy Burch, co-chair of the 2014 Planning Committee, to deliver the keynote address. Of course, I was absolutely thrilled and honored. I learned that, since the Battle of San Jacinto was won within 18 minutes, it was traditional for the keynote to last no longer. I went to work on a concise account of the dramatic events. 
Reflecting pool from the
observation deck

The ceremony was scheduled to begin at 11 o'clock on Monday, April 21, at the north side of the monument. Karon and I arrived more than an hour early. We shot photos for our blog, went up the elevator for more photos, and while Karon visited the gift shop I went outside to find Nancy Burch. The Deer Park High School Orchestra, conducted by Frank Woodruff, already was providing a patriotic musical prelude. At 11 o'clock the genial Master of Ceremonies, Ron Stone, Jr., called the ceremony to order. The Deer Park High School Army JROTC Color Guard marched to present the U.S. and Texas flags. Following an invocation by Joe R. Davidson, Chaplain of the San Jacinto Chapter of the Sons of the Republic of Texas, we pledged allegiance to the U.S. flag and to the Lone Star Flag. Accompanied by the Deer Park H.S.Orchestra, Leah and Martha Jorgensen led us in singing the National Anthem and "Texas, Our Texas."
Deer Park HS Orchestra

A crowd exceeding 400 had assembled, including the orchestra and a large company of re-enactors, who impressively had aligned above us with period attire and weapons. The Daughters of the Republic of Texas and the Sons of the Republic of Texas introduced DRT and SRT scholarship winners. There was a brief address by Sam Houston, IV, great-grandson of General Houston. He long has supported and appeared at the annual commemoration, but announced that in the future he would relinquish those duties. (When I first met him at San Augustine several years ago, he sported mutton chop sideburns and bore an uncanny resemblance to his great-grandfather.) Following his remarks, Houston and numerous other descendants of San Jacinto battle veterans were recognized  with vigorous applause.

I was introduced by Bob Hixon, Chairman of the San Jacinto Museum. I had rehearsed daily for weeks in order to relate with intensity and feeling the dramatic, heroic story of the "Runaway Scrape" and the explosive battle. I attempted to craft a strong, emotional ending, and apparently it worked. The audience response was an immediate standing ovation. Afterward, including at lunch with Nancy Burch, I received one gracious accolade after another, and I was grateful that the State Historian had done justice to an iconic Texas subject.
With Nancy Burch

Following my address, a benediction was provided by Ann Tanner, Chaplain of the San Jacinto Chapter of the DRT. The Texas Army Fife and Drum Corps (two re-enactors) played "Will You Come to the Bower," the risque tune that was played by Houston's little fife and drum group as his army marched into battle. A lovely memorial wreath was placed in front of the monument. The company of re-enactors next fired a "Salute to Texas Patriots," a volley which was reinforced by cannon blasts.

All of this and more was presented in one powerful hour. There was TV and radio coverage, including interviews with me, and I've since seen and heard some of the programming. The 178th Anniversary of the Battle of San Jacinto was an unforgettable experience.
Leah and Martha Jorgensen

Sam Houston, IV
Bob Hixon, Chairman of the San Jacinto Museum
Texas Army Volley
Descendants of San Jacinto Battle veterans
Memorial wreath
Karon with artillery crew

(news account with some audio) 
For more information: http://www.sanjacinto-museum.org/Monument/

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