Wednesday, January 11, 2006

Peaceful Real Estate

One of my most favorite places on Earth is an old battleground. Depending upon whom you ask, it’s a place where several hundred hapless soldiers were mercilessly slaughtered and left rotting for days, or it is revered as the location of a 20-minute skirmish by a few hundred rag-tag “contras,” who’d decided they were sick of being pushed around.

Recognize the place?

San Jacinto.

Each April, the famous Battle of San Jacinto is re-enacted on the barely rolling terrain that is accessed by Texas Park Road 1836 from the south, and linked to the north by the still-strategic Lynchburg Ferry.
The Texas Parks Commission is working on some restoration of the towering San Jacinto Monument that marks the battle site, and dominates the landscape for miles.

I can spot it, shimmering in the distance, from my office window in Houston’s Galleria. The San Jacinto Monument towers over more than just the swampy terrain: its builders in 1936 had the gall to construct it a few feet higher than the Washington Monument in our nation’s capitol.

Yeah, that was on purpose.

I love to visit the Monument, read the rolls of the surrounding land, and imagine the Spring of 1836. The Parks Department has been working to restore the battleground, too, to a close approximation of how it looked in that fateful April 170-years ago. They’re re-planting native grasses, and are landscaping the terrain. Really helps visualize what was going on.

You can see where Gen. Sam Houston was wounded, his horse shot dead out from under him. You can see the spot where Gen. Santa Anna’s encampment was sited, and imagine his dalliance, perhaps, with a woman immortalized as “the yellow rose of Texas,” who may have had a hand in distracting the General during his afternoon siesta…just before the Texans attacked.

And you can clearly see how the Mexicans were horribly positioned with their backs against an impenetrable swamp bordering the meandering San Jacinto River nearby.

I’ve been coming here since I was a young boy.

I always learn something new when I visit.

Across the reflecting pond from the Monument floats the magnificent Battleship Texas, still a tribute in progress to the men who served on her in two world wars, and to all members of the armed forces anywhere, anytime. She’s painted a dark, Pacific Blue, now. The hull was replaced a few years ago at the Todd Shipyards in Galveston, and the refurbishing work continues “from stem to stern.”

The highest point open to the public is the protected walk around the front of the bridge.

The lowest point you can visit is deep within the bowels of the engine room, where refurbished dials and gauges gleam in the dim light, and massive pistons, push rods and crankshafts slumber in peace.

“Texas” saw action in both Atlantic and Pacific theatres of WW-II, participating in the shelling of Normandy on D-Day, and the pounding of Iwo Jima and Okinawa a few months later.

The truly amazing thing about the Battleship Texas is that she was originally built with WW-I technology, a “dreadnought” of the era—a warship which feared no other on the high seas.

While touring the ship recently I met a couple from Oregon who asked me to snap their picture near the stern of the “Texas.” It was their first visit to the battleship, and I mentioned to them of my love for the floating museum that has grown over the years.

Later, as we were walking off the gangway to shore, they asked me why the Battleship Texas and the Monument hold such an attraction. I wise-cracked, “because I am a Texan,” and we all had a laugh—and I am sure they thought I was just another braggadocio shooting off my mouth.

But my love of this place runs much deeper.

It is fitting, I think, that these two monuments to human struggle, one pointing to the sky, the other floating peacefully nearby, are positioned as they are at San Jacinto. War is such an ugly thing. History has illustrated, graphically, that it is often a necessary thing.

Aristotle said “we make war that we may live in peace,” a paradox of the human condition.

Here on this sloping battleground, the representatives of three great struggles reside as reminders of the price of the peace we enjoy, protect, and cherish.

(All photos of The San Jacinto Monument and The Battleship Texas, including aerial shots, were taken by me.)

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