Sunday, May 24, 2009

Memorial Day, Part Five - The Alamo, Texas

Continuing our special Memorial Day series, there are few places in the world as recognizable or moving as an old mission chapel in the heart of San Antonio, Texas.

Since it fell to overwhelming odds on a cold March morning in 1836, the Alamo has been a focal point of emotion. And despite revisionist history that often seems pre-determined to tear apart its story rather than interpret it, the Alamo still stands as a dramatic symbol of liberty and a fight for independence.

Originally built during the 1700s as Mission San Antonio de Valero, the Alamo originally served as a place of peace. Resident friars ministered to local Native Americans, working to bring the Indians to Christianity and helping them raise better crops for the support of their community and families. Its Christian purposes fulfilled, the mission was abandoned by the Church in 1793 and for a decade was allowed to crumble.

In 1803, however, it gained new life as a military post. Assigned to the original garrison was the Second Flying Company from the Alamo de Parras area of Mexico. Some believe it was from the presence of this unit that the structure gained its present name, but others believe the name originated from the Spanish name for a grove of cottonwood trees that once grew on the site.

Captured in 1835 by Texas revolutionaries, the old mission soon became the scene of a monumental battle. In February and March of 1836, a small garrison of defenders held the crumbling mission against an overwhelming Mexican army led by General Antonio Lopez de Santa Anna. For thirteen days the mission held out against determined and brave attacks by Santa Anna's troops.

On the final day of the battle, Santa Anna attacked the Alamo from all four sides. Mexican soldiers went up and over the walls in a bloody battle to the death. By the time the bloodshed ended, only two men who took up arms in defense of the mission are known to have survived: a Tejano patriot who was confused for a Mexican prisoner of war and Joe, a man who had been a slave of Colonel William B. Travis until the fall of the Alamo. Several women and children also survived. Lying dead at their posts, however, were such men as the famed frontiersman David Crockett, Alamo commander William B. Travis, famed knife inventor Jim Bowie and many others.

The Alamo today is a shrine located in the heart of downtown San Antonio. To learn more, please visit

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