Congressman Ted Poe (TX-02)
Every year in August I have my entire staff come to Texas to spend a week working in the district. This August was especially important to me to have my Washington staff here to meet with constituents face-to-face and hear what was on the minds of the folks we represent. It’s also a time for me to impart a little Texas history for those staffers that weren’t so luck to be born here in the great Lone Star State.
First things first: Bar-b-que! And not that Yankee stuff they’re used too either. Once that’s done, it’s time to get down to business. Between constituent meetings, townhalls and community events, I always take a side trip to the San Jacinto Monument, Battlegrounds and USS Texas and let the history lesson begin.
When I was kid, I couldn’t understand why it was such a big deal that General Sam Houston and 700 Texians defeated Santa Anna’s army of 1600. It was obvious to me that the Mexican Army didn’t stand a chance, we had a battleship! It was sitting right there. So to clear up any confusion for some of the first-timers to the park, I explain the USS Texas didn’t get there until a little later.
As we walked around on the battlegrounds, I told the story of what took place along the marshy banks of the San Jacinto River. It was April 21, 1836. Scout Deaf Smith was ordered to burn the only bridge and trapped both armies between the river and the marshes and a rag-tag bunch of Texians dressed in buckskins, with pistols in their belts, bowie knives, long muskets, and tomahawks readied for battle.
General Sam wanted to charge into battle the next day at dawn, but after discussions with his troops decided not to wait any longer. So in the middle of the afternoon, General Sam and the Boys marched in a single line in broad daylight with little cover toward the Mexican Army.
Santa Anna's army, caught napping, was routed. Most of the enemy were killed or wounded. The rest were captured or disappeared. The victory was stunning. It was on this very ground that Texas became a free, independent nation.
Then I turn my attention to the monument and museum and explained to them that while it was constructed to look like the Washington Monument, like everything in Texas – it’s bigger. And even though we promised it wouldn’t be, the star on top puts Texas over the top.
But my history lesson wasn’t over. Since I took office I have been working with my friend Congressman Gene Green to secure federal funding to permanently dry dock the USS Texas. So my staff was eager to see what was so important about this project and why it is so near and dear to me.
The USS Texas participated in the most important battles of the first half of the twentieth century, including both World Wars. Commissioned on March 12, 1914 she was the most powerful war ship the world had seen and participated in the invasion of North Africa, Normandy, Iwo Jima and Okinawa. Her most notable contributions came in World War II, firing at Nazi defenses during the D-Day invasion at Normandy. Called the “smartest man o’war afloat” the Texas was an integral part of many US victories.
I made them all go aboard and to get a first hand look of the last of the great Dreadnought battleships. When I was a kid, my best friend Pete Cliburn and I would climb from top to bottom of the “Mighty T,” firing every gun and squeezing down every port hole along the way. We explored the many decks and climbed the ladders of the upper decks as high as we could go. So naturally I made them do it all too.
During my tenure as a judge, I sentenced offenders in my court to be “enlisted” in the “Texas Navy.” I ordered probationers who were skilled welders, painters, plumbers and electricians to help in the restoration efforts of the Battleship. As one of many creative sentences, this became another effective tool that both served the public and the probationer – a few went on to be hired by the Parks and Wildlife Department.
As we wrap up the afternoon’s lesson, I assign a little homework. I encourage my staff to read two of my favorite books: T. S. Farenbach’s book, “Lone Star,” the greatest book ever written on Texas history; and a “Weekend in September,” written by my uncle, John Edward Weems, on the Galveston Hurricane of 1900.
It’s important that we understand our history, not only so that we can learn from it, but to better understand who we are. This is particularly true for Texans because of our unique history and ancestry.
And that’s just the way it is.