Remember the Alamo! But you can forget its flag

THE BALTIMORE SUN

AUSTIN, Texas -- Texas faces a major snag in trying to regain an Alamo flag that Mexican forces captured in the famed 1836 battle.

Mexico apparently has lost the flag.

"What can I tell you?" an apologetic functionary with the Mexican Ministry of Foreign Relations said after four months of bureaucratic finger-pointing on the flag's whereabouts. "We can't find it."

The Dallas Morning News began inquiring about the fate of the flag -- the only Alamo banner that still exists -- after a Texas state senator revived talk this summer about persuading Mexico to return it.

The flag, emblazoned with a flying eagle and the declaration "God and Liberty," was last on display at a Mexico City military-theme museum in the mid-1980s.

No one the Dallas Morning News spoke with could determine whether it has been seen since.

* The military museum said it gave the flag to the country's premiere history museum for restoration.

* The history museum first said it had lent the flag to the military museum. Later it said it did not know what had become of it.

* The institute that oversees the history museum said it had no information on the flag.

* And Mexico's national defense department, which tracks military artifacts, said it can't find its files on the Alamo flag.

The search illustrated the sensitive nature of Texans' efforts to regain a piece of the inspirational birthplace of their state. They have been rebuffed for decades by Mexican officials who said the flag rightfully belongs in Mexico, a symbol of its Alamo victory.

The two sides' vastly differing views of the flag and the events at the Alamo also have played a part in the latest get-back-the-flag episode.

Alamo boosters and historians are worried, but do not believe that the banner has been lost or destroyed.

More likely, they said, it's been misplaced or is the victim of a tug-of-war that Mexican leaders want to ignore.

"I feel sure it's exactly where it's supposed to be," said Virginia Nicholas of San Antonio, a committee chairwoman for the Daughters of the Republic of Texas, which manages the Alamo.

"They probably don't want to [give it up]," she said, speculating that the flag situation is rooted in politics, not preservation.

William D. Gooch, the director of the Texas State Library and Archives in Austin, said Texans are fiercely proud of their history, and "that flag helped develop this state the way it is now."

"It makes me very concerned if that flag can't be found or it's in pieces in a paper bag," he said. "It's very frightening. We certainly need to look into it and actually find out if the flag is somewhere and, if it is, can it be restored?"

The president of an organization of Texas historians said he welcomes efforts to retrieve the Alamo flag, but expects its return will have to be negotiated by top leaders in Mexico and Texas.

"It's going to take a real act of national faith to return the flag on the part of the Mexicans," said Kevin Young, president of the Alamo Battlefield Association in San Antonio. "I can imagine some of the anguish."

Mrs Nicholas agreed. "It's an opportunity to resolve some issues between the two countries."

Mexican Consul Armando Beteta of Corpus Christi, whom state Sen. Carlos Truan earlier identified as having initiated discussion of a flag exchange, now says he never brought up the idea.

The 45-by-34-inch Alamo flag, trimmed with gold metallic fringe, is emblazoned with the words "First Company of Texan Volunteers from New Orleans." The New Orleans Greys company, which carried the pale blue silk flag, formed after the outbreak of Texas' fight for independence from Mexico.

Several flags reportedly flew over the Alamo, but the Greys' is TC the only one known to have survived the battle at the San Antonio mission that fell on March 6, 1836. A small band of Texans held out 13 days against the Mexican army.

The triumphant Gen. Antonio Lopez de Santa Anna sent the New Orleans Greys flag to Mexico City.

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