Wednesday, December 10, 2008


I am reading quite a bit of history lately—research for another project to which I am committed. These thoughts formed today as I tried to get my mind off a source problem:

As the story goes, on March 5, 1836, the day before the Battle of the Alamo, Colonel William Barret Travis drew a line in the sand and gave every man the choice to cross the line and join him in a fight to the death to defend the Alamo. All but one man crossed. No defender survived.

That line was not an accusation, it was an invitation. The invitation, you see, was to the Cross.

On March 27th, 1836, the Texans captured by General Urrea’s reinforced Army following Santa Anna, and under orders of Santa Anna, took the more than 400 Texan fighters being held prisoners of war, split them into several groups, and executed them, en masse, at Goliad.

At the Battle of San Jacinto, on April 21, 1836, the remaining Texans again faced Santa Anna. During the battle that lasted a little more than a quarter of an hour, and in the ensuing pursuit of the retreating Mexican Soldiers, the Texans encouraged one another with yells of “Remember the Alamo!” and, lesser known, “Remember Goliad!”

This was not a call to recall and imitate great valor in battle—it was a call to recall what sort of enemy was being faced. It was call for justice. What the Alamo and Goliad had in common was the manifestation of depth of evil which was being fought.

Personally, I believe that is what has made Texas so special to Texans. Men, mostly from Tennessee and Virginia, led their families to a new frontier, many being the sons of those who fought the British for American Independence. They truly believed in freedom, and saw Texas as another place for which freedom could and should be fought—an opportunity to risk self for something more important.

That is to say, these men believed there are things more important than their own lives and security. They were right.

These men also believe that there is true evil in this world, and that it must be fought against—even at the cost of their own lives. They were right.

Ultimately, the fight against evil is always more dangerous and more honorable than a fight for freedom—freedom is the result of purging evil—it is rarely, if ever, a goal by itself.

In Texas, many believe in something greater and more important then themselves—we call that something, “God.”

In Texas, many believe that risking their own lives for freedom from evil is something that must be done for moral and virtuous reasons, including love of neighbor, honor, and justice (not to establish any of those, but to bring the force of such virtues to bear). We call that “sacrifice.”

It is not that these sort of men do not exist anywhere else, in fact, nearly all came from somewhere else, but in Texas, such persons gather, and such persons stay.


I remember being told by the President and CEO of the small company I worked for straight out of college, that his CFO thought I would be the right man to open the new office in California. The President told me he answered, “No, he is a Texan, and a Texan will spend only half his time working for the company and the other half finding a way back to Texas.”

When a group of Texans arrived at a small seminary in Wisconsin, making up about one half of a matriculating class, the spirit of the seminary changed. In the Church, we speak of the Church Triumphant—those who are past this life and in the bosom of God; the Church Expectant-- those who are past this life and await the coming of His Kingdom; and the Church Militant—those who are in this life, fighting evil until this life has ended. Many of my class, Texans by birth, residence, or spirit, were deemed by those who do not understand us, The Church Belligerent.

Nope, merely militant-- in a society that does not understand the threat of evil nor the need to fight for good.

Eventually, I did find myself in California (working as a Priest all of the time, but always with one eye toward Texas) and I found a group of men and women- among whom and only among whom, I always felt as if I were home. To me, the connection was obvious—even if it was not to any of them. Those men and women are called Marines.

The parish I served was mostly of persons who had always known security and wealth, and therefore wanted a church where that was never challenged or challenging. I once had security and wealth-- it never made me happy Their brand of faith was not safe around me. But, one pleasant afternoon, I sat on a porch sipping beer with a friend and Navy Chaplain with the Corps. Our wives were inside with my two year old son and three month old daughter. The Padre told me I fit in with the Marines I lived among. It may have been the greatest compliment I ever received. He added, "and you are not yet too old."

I had about six months before the calendar changed and my age became too great to even consider becoming one of them-- but I wanted to with all that I am -- all, that is, except for the "Daddy" part. I asked my friend, "I would spend about six months at sea, and then six months back for the first couple of years, wouldn't I?" The Major indicated I had it about right. I answered, my son and I need each other and I need my daughter to know me.

I made the wrong decision for the right reasons-- the worst of many such decisions I have ever made.

A friend of mine-- one I value greatly, is on his way to Kuwait and that is only one of two legs of his journey, of course. I once told him my regret -- and God knows I grieve-- that I never joined up. How I tried to redeem that mistake when the Amy raised its age limits for chaplains-- but always a year or two behind by birth date; and I told him how I lost my family anyway; how I see that as being the Captain and leading three into the desert behind enemy lines and after capture by that ruthless enemy, alone, escaping, and nearly caught again trying to get two of my own out with me. I told him, that if any of those I believed to be my brothers in arms had so much as cared that I was missing in action-- perhaps at least three could have been saved.

Spiritually, I was every bit as wounded and tortured as Marcus in Lone Survivor-- and know what it is to see your own lost in a battle you alone survived. Within a week, Marcus found and was found by his brothers in arms who rejoiced so with him at his rescue. with something like that in mind, I told my solider friend that I needed a group of soldiers around me-- people who would know that I would not leave them for dead, and who would also honor the "No man left behind" code-- that it was something unknown in the Church and long gone from the secular world -- even in Texas. His answer? "You are exactly the man we look for in a chaplain." That is a tie for first place for compliments in my life.

But back to Texas specifics (although all of this is tied together in my mind):

I think it was last week that I finished a book written by a soldier in Hood’s Texas Brigade about his experiences during the Civil War. He admired and honored his enemy when they were shooting at him, and when he was shooting at them. He explained that he knew they were fighting for the same principles he fought for. He also added that he did not just fight for the nation, but her fought for Texas.

Today, I finished reading Marcus Luttrell’s Lone Survivor. It is about his ordeal as a Navy SEAL in Afghanistan against the Taliban. He also, mentioned in passing, but tow or three times in passing, that he fought for his nation and for Texas. Often in his book, he indicates his frustration that so many Americans do not understand warriors—especially Christian warriors. He then reassures himself to the reader that Texans understand.

I recently learned the names of my paternal grandmother's ancestors. She was very young when a much older brother sent for her so as to save her from the poverty on the farm. Perhaps she never knew, but I also learned that her grandfather, great uncle, and great-grandfather were Texas Rangers-- all three of the first 18 men ever to join the Ranger Corps.

So, where is my battle? Did I leave it on the porch with an empty bottle of beer near the back gate of Camp Pendleton back in 1998? Moreover, I find myself wondering, Where is my battalion-- who are my brothers (and sisters) in arms?

Copyright © 2008 W. Crews Giles

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