I am writing this on the morning of March 6. For most of you this date has little special significance. For me it’s almost like a religious holiday. On this date in 1836 a band of less than 200 defenders—which included the famous Davy Crockett— of a broken-down mission turned fort outside of San Antonio, Texas, were overwhelmed by the forces of Mexican dictator Santa Anna. All of them died in the battle. It became immortalized in the battle cry “Remember the Alamo!” when the Texas army defeated that same Mexican army six weeks later at the battle of San Jacinto.
Why would this matter to someone from Sussex County, Delaware? The answer is simple: the power of television and movies to influence an impressionable child.
Like most Baby Boomers I was part of the Walt Disney inspired Davy Crockett craze of the mid-1950’s. I had a coonskin cap and I knew [and still do] all the words to “The Ballad of Davy Crockett.” However, I was only six years old and I didn’t really understand what happened at the end of the final episode as Davy is swinging his rifle “Ol Betsy” as the enemy soldiers surround him.
Five years later, I saw John Wayne’s movie “The Alamo” in the darkened Ball Theater in Millsboro, Delaware. [My parents let me go to the movies alone at 11 years old with no fear that something would happen.] The movie climaxes with the final battle scene where Jim Bowie, Col. Travis, and Davy Crockett [portrayed by John Wayne] all die onscreen. Those images and emotions were seared upon my soul. I can still remember walking out of the theater stunned beyond description that the Good Guys all died! Something happened to me in that experience.
In the years since, I have read everything I could find on the battle and particularly about Davy Crockett. He became an ultimate hero for me. He embodied the courage to stand up for what’s right no matter how great the opposition and of never surrendering or giving up. That is what the Alamo and Davy Crockett came to stand for in my heart. Some years ago I was able to visit San Antonio. I cannot describe what it was like to stand on the actual ground those men defended, to stand on the very place Davy and his men defended and where they died. It felt like what it must feel like for a Muslim to visit Mecca—a pilgrimage.
Reality can be a real intrusion into such deeply held passions like the Alamo. As one who loves history, my reading has caused me to take a fresh look at the Alamo and Davy Crockett. In fact, it is unlikely that Davy died swinging “Old Betsy” or with his last effort blowing up the powder magazine. Historians generally believe he was captured during the battle and then executed on order of Santa Anna. That doesn’t make his death any less brave just less dramatic. This was depicted in the 2004 film “The Alamo” with Billy Bob Thornton portraying a dead-on Davy Crockett. This film was the most historically accurate of any Alamo film yet it bombed at the box office. Myth always makes better drama.
Almost 50 years removed from that night in the Ball Theater, I am still moved to honor this date. Don’t underestimate the power of media upon youngsters. It causes me to still Remember the Alamo.