Tuesday, November 13, 2012

Veteran's Day

"Lone Star Historian" is a blog about the travels and activities of the State Historian of Texas. 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 almost 40 books, half about Texas history subjects, and in 2007 he was named Best Living Non-Fiction Writer by True West Magazine.  

Hank Solis

Addressing the Veteran's Day gathering at Memorial Park in Carthage


On Saturday morning, November 10, it was my privilege to address a Veteran's Day celebration in Carthage. Hank Solis, Commander of American Legion Post 353, presided over the program, which featured the local Knights of Columbus Honor Guard and a stirring rendition of the National Anthem by young Country and Western singer, Jordyn Morgan.

Knights of Columbus Honor Guard

                       The theme of my remarks was "Military Traditions of Texas." The previous weekend, while I was in Austin for a history conference at the Bob Bullock Museum, I took the best part of an hour to inspect and photograph the military monuments on the grounds surrounding the State Capitol. There are 22 acres of beautifully landscaped grounds around the Capitol, and on that 22 acres are 17 monuments. The most recent monument is a Hispanic grouping on the front lawn. There is a fine statue of a Texas cowboy and of a pioneer woman, along with a monument to fallen peace officers. But most of the monuments celebrate the rich military traditions of Texas.

Our magnificent State Capitol building opened in 1888. Just three years later the first monument was placed in front of the Capitol - an impressive piece honoring the men of the Alamo, who established an unforgettable Texan military memory. The commemoration of Texas heroism and sacrifice in others wars is expressed in ten more monuments around the Capitol grounds.

There are three monuments honoring Texas in the Civil War. The Census of 1860 listed over 92,000 Texans between the ages of 17 and 45 - ages of likely soldiers. Indeed, as many as 70,000 men served the Confederacy, along with a few thousand others who joined Union forces. Gen. Albert Sidney Johnston was killed at Shiloh, and Lt. Gen. John Bell Hood suffered terrible combat wounds. In addition to these soldiers of high rank, three Texans served as major generals and 32 as brigadier generals. And I can never talk about the Civil War without mentioning the Battle of Sabine Pass, in which 42 Texans manning an artillery battery turned back a Union invasion force of 17 ships and 5,000 soldiers.

The World War I monument commemorates nearly 200,000 Texas men - and 449 nurses - who served, and who represented Texas superbly in heavy combat. There are three monuments honoring the extraordinary Texan role in World War II. The Pearl Harbor monument recalls Doris Miller of Waco, whose heroism aboard the sinking U.S.S. West Virginia earned him the Navy Cross, the Navy's highest award for valor (the Medal of Honor, of course, is awarded by Congress). The first Navy Cross ever awarded to an African-American was presented to Miller (who was killed aboard an escort carrier in 1943) by Adm. Chester Nimitz of Fredericksburg, Commander in Chief of the Pacific Fleet.

 WW II monument on Capitol grounds

Another WW II monument honors the 830,000 Texans, including 12,000 women, who served in uniform. Texan Audie Murphy, the most decorated soldier of the war, was awarded 33 medals for valor.  Submarine commander Sam Dealey from Dallas was the most decorated sailor of the war, receiving the Medal of Honor posthumously. More than 22,000 Texans lost their lives. Texas A&M, an all-male military college, sent 22,229 Aggies to war, including 14,123 officers - more than any other American college or university, including West Point. Seven Aggies won the Medal of Honor. 

T-Patchers were known as the Texas Army.

Another monument honors the 36th Division, a Texas National Guard unit that was federalized in both world wars. Known as the "T-Patch Division," the "Texas Division," and the "Texas Army," the 36th engaged in 19 months of combat. T-Patchers earned 15 Medals of Honor and captured 175,806 enemy soldiers. The 36th Division suffered 27,343 casualties: 3,974 killed, 19,052 wounded, and 4,317 missing in action.

There are other monuments to other wars around the grounds, as well as one honoring disabled veterans. Statuary is a major element of the public reservoir of memory about Texans at war. Such statuary abounds at the Capitol grounds as well as at courthouses and other locations around the state. This statuary and the Veteran's Day ceremonies held across Texas provide strong expressions of public pride in the heroic service exhibited by generations of Texans.

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