Remembering the Alamo at the annual Texas Independence Day celebration

SAN BENITO — Terry Gabriel has visited the Alamo only once, but he remembers it well.

The memory is so vivid he could appreciate the re-enactment of the battle which took place there.

“They burned the bodies,” said Gabriel, 69, a Winter Texan from Canada.

“I knew there were survivors,” he said. “The different uniforms interested me. I think Santa Ana must have conscripted people along the way to serve in the army.”

He was among the spectators in the bleachers Saturday as San Benito held its annual Texas Independence Day celebration. They watched as re-enactors playing Mexican officers rode briskly around a field on horseback. Their dashing blue and red uniforms shone brightly in the afternoon sun.

They projected a commanding presence before the foot soldiers lined up with muskets at the ready.

Other actors in character dress positioned themselves in front of a makeshift Alamo. Smoke spit from rifles gripped by Alamo defenders dressed in buckskin, raccoon caps and black vests.

Mexican commanders shouted orders and the troops readied their weapons before firing. Soon, the soldiers charged the Alamo to end the protracted siege.

As soon as the fighting was over, women in brightly-colored dresses spilled into the yard to tend the fallen. History shows they were all encamped behind the walls for 13 days. The very thought seemed to make Betty Willard of Mercedes cringe.

“That’s a long time,” said Willard, 71. Shrinking a 13-day siege into a few minutes was like narrowing an entire pregnancy into an hour as seen in television shows. Something seems to get lost, she indicated.

The reenactment conveyed something the history books can’t.

“The thing that I learned was that it was sad,” said Willard’s friend, Laura Duval of Brownsville.

“I liked the enthusiasm they showed,” said Duval, 68, added.

Bernardo Rosales and his wife Beatriz of Pharr thoroughly enjoyed the event. Bernardo liked learning more about the Tejanos of Mexican descent who fought and died with the Alamo defenders.

“I have heard about that before,” Bernardo Rosales, 42, said with a smile.

Locals and Winter Texans from northern climes were both seeing the story for the first time. David Cortez of Harlingen had never seen the reenactment. The factual information and anecdotes gave him and his family a perspective not found in history books.

“I liked the time frames,” Cortez, 59, said. “They said that they attacked at 4 o’clock in the morning. The Mexican soldiers attacked from different directions. I didn’t know that.”

Marcel Deschenes of Ontario, Canada, and his wife J. Deschenes knew little about the Alamo siege and thoroughly enjoyed the live display.

“I have heard about the battle but didn’t know anything about it,” said Marcel’s wife.

They both seemed to have loved the show but felt some things could have been better.

“I’m hard of hearing so it’s always difficult for me to hear,” said Marcel Deschenes. He had difficulty understanding the speaker because of the lack of a suitable wind screen.

“The reenactments are always fun to go to,” he said.

Bringing history to life seems to resonate with many people. History books in a classroom, library or in a book store only reach so far. Reenactments such as this one seemed to extend history to the next level, that human level where dry facts explained on paper make them a part of a very real present — and future.