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From the Files of the RJ's Surrealist Research Bureau

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The Alamo The Alamo

When Legends Die: what do the Alamo, Dak To, Gen. George Custer and the gunfight at the OK Corral have in common?

It was 1967, the Summer of Love, and my battalion of grunts of the 173rd Airborne Brigade had lost a company of men near the small hamlet of Dak To, nestled along the Laotian border of South Vietnam’s mist-shrouded central highlands. That was a mere omen of things to come, for over the next few months we fought an agonizing, brutal series of pitched battles against a division of scattered, well-dug-in NVA regulars, culminating in the bloody, costly battle for Hill 875. Visions of the Alamo and Custer’s Last Stand were continually before my young eyes.

Under constant pressure from officers flying high above the battlefield in helicopters to find and count more enemy dead, we finally resorted to holing up in caves and sending in false radio reports. The climactic Hill 875 battle alone ended up officially claiming some 500 NVA dead as against 140 Americans, though we on the ground knew less than a hundred enemy bodies were actually found. Later, we were given the new John Wayne film “Green Berets” to watch at the Dak To base camp and I remember laughing at it uproariously and throwing beer cans at the screen along with the other GIs.

I later learned the real “other” Alamo had its own facts that didn’t seem to fit the legend. Far from fighting for freedom, the 184 men in the San Antonio mission back then were also fighting for the right to own slaves and the Mexicans of that time were just as adamant that slavery would not be allowed on Mexican soil. A penny western reporter who gave no source didn’t put the famous tale of Col. Travis “drawing a line in the sand” forth until 30 years later, though it’s still being reported as fact. Mexican diaries state unequivocally that Davy Crockett, far from going down fighting, swinging Old Betsy, was one of a number of men who surrendered, hoping to save their lives, and who were later killed on Santa Ana’s orders.

The Gunfight at the O.K. Corral likewise holds some surprising revelations, chief among them the finding that the true cause of the battle turned on a simple struggle between the Earps and Clantons for control of the town’s lucrative gaming and gambling concessions. Witnesses state that the Earps not only fired first but that one of the Clantons was unarmed and another was on a horse that started bucking wildly at the first sound of gunfire. (The complete Tombstone O.K. Corral Inquest can be found at a number of online sites).

I bring this all up due to the recent showing on the Disney channel of the film “Newsies” which purports to show a musical version of a famous 1899 strike by newspaper boys against the newspaper conglomerates of the era. What the film neglects to mention is that the poor, valiant boys in the film actually lost their strike and were viciously beaten by thugs and scabs hired by the newspaper tycoons. There was no happy ending in real life; the “newsies” lost their strike and before child labor laws, were returned homeless and hungry to the cold, New York City streets.

Recent news reports suggest that former Vice President Cheney first okayed waterboarding in order to find links between 9-11 and Saddam Hussein. The Iraq War will turn out to be one of the most costly mistakes of the past century, built on a myth which, like castles made of sand, disappear when washed in the oceans of truth.

We need truth in this day and age more than ever. Nearly 400 GIs died in the hills around Dak To during the Summer of Love and their sacrifices were honorable; they were brave men, and they deserve nothing less than the truth. The men of the Alamo were brave men as well. It took courage for the young “newsies” to revolt. We don’t need to mythologize them, they too deserve the truth. America has nothing to fear from the truth. Not now, not ever!

My friend Dennis Nicholls, founder of the River Journal, died recently after a long illness. In his long, silent and solitary journeys through the hills he loved I believe he spoke more loudly and eloquently than most of today’s preachers, poets, politicians or pundits. We’ll miss his gentle spirit.

“For how short a while man speaks, and withal how vainly. And for how long he is silent. Only the other day I saw the mummy of a King once in Thebes who had been silent already for four thousand years.” (Lord Dunsany)

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Jody Forest Jody Forest When he's not hidden behind the palatial gates of his Dover estate, Casa de Bozo, Jody is out using outdated and corny pickup lines on various gullible women.

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