In the wake of the wanton destruction of the diorama of the Battle of Palmetto Ranch created by students of Highland High School in Gilbert, Ariz., and donated to the Texas Military Forces Museum, I e-mailed the museum to express my outrage. I e-mailed the adjutant general of Texas — Maj. Gen. Charles Rodriguez — and faxed him a copy of my Feb. 24 Daily Item column on the matter ("History Needs Better Advocates"). I e-mailed the office of Texas Gov. Rick Perry to plead for a formal investigation into the matter.
The only response I received was from someone named Dede Keith, a staff member in Gov. Perry's Office of Administration and Constituent Services. The letter — sent via computer — said, "I am asking Adjutant Gen. Charles Rodriguez for his staff's assistance in reviewing and responding both to you and this office on the information shared."
Glen Frakes, the Highland High School teacher whose students' work was destroyed, let me know the importance of persevering in this quest for justice. He wrote to me, "Mr. Hunt (Jeffrey Hunt, the museum director) has expressed his intention to 'alter' other dioramas in the museum, which were also built by my students. He also announced his intentions to change the museum to favor his own interests, sweeping away the efforts of 622 volunteers who built the museum under the direction of its founder, Gen. John C. Scribner, over a period of 22 years."
Mr. Frakes continued, "It was always the goal of Gen. Scribner to make the museum home to all aspects of Texas military history. He was a builder, not a destroyer. The Palmetto Ranch diorama was Gen. Scribner's last diorama. He died a year before it was finished. We dedicated it to him. Jeff Hunt knew that. For my kids' 3 1/2 years of work, for the museum, and for the general, I welcome your involvement."
When Union Maj. Gen. Phil Sheridan served as military governor of Texas and Louisiana after the Civil War, he said, "If I owned Texas and Hell, I would rent Texas and live in Hell." Jeff Hunt's vicious treatment of the Palmetto Ranch diorama epitomizes the meaning of Sheridan's quotation. Given that this story is inciting passions and bringing embarrassment to the entire state of Texas, one wonders why so many officials — at the museum, in the adjutant general's office, in the governor's office — remain silent, or offer bland bureaucratic responses.
Too often, stories like that of the Palmetto Ranch diorama receive a few seconds' worth of attention from media outlets, only to fade into obscurity. The students of Highland High School deserve better. They deserve to be supported by everyone who cares about history. They deserve to be supported by legions of allies who will not give up in this quest for justice. They deserve to know that the eyes of the country are watching, and waiting to see if someone in authority — Gov. Perry, Adjutant Gen. Rodriguez, perhaps even Hunt himself — will find the courage and honor to do what is right.
The shattered remains of what was once a work of art symbolize the shattered hopes of hundreds of young students. Imagine for a moment if your son or daughter devoted many hours to a creative project, only to have their creativity not only belittled and criticized, but deliberately crushed and broken by an adult in a position of authority. What action would you take to stand up for your child?
Please contact the adjutant general of Texas, who oversees the museum, and let your voice be heard. Write to Maj. Gen. Charles G. Rodriguez, P.O. Box 5218, Camp Mabry, Austin, TX 78763-5218, call (512) 782-5006, send a fax to (512) 782-5578, or e-mail email@example.com. Send a copy to Glen Frakes, Highland High School, 140 S. Gilbert Road, Gilbert, AZ 85296, or Glen_Frakes@gilbert.k12.az.us.
Mr. Frakes and his students will not give up. We should not give up on them.
• John Deppen, of Northumberland, is the senior vice commander of Camp No. 15 of the Sons of Union Veterans of the Civil War. He can be reached at GeneralWSH@aol.com.