In June 2011, Monique Lawless challenged three thieves who ran out of a Houston Walmart with a case of “adult recreational beverages.” As a clerk stood by helplessly, watching the men leave, Lawless shouted, “Do something! They’re leaving!” When Lawless saw that no one was doing anything to stop the three men, she told the clerk to hold her purse and she ran after them, jumped on their car, kicked the windshield as hard as she could and hollered for help. They sped off, laughing, and dragged her a few feet before she let go of the car.
Within minutes, a police helicopter found the car, chased it with the help of Texas Department of Public Safety officers and state troopers were able to arrest all three men.
Lawless, who got pretty banged up and had two black eyes to show for it, said, “I'm tired of it. Our society needs to stand up and say, ‘This is not right. We are not going to put up with it. You will be punished.’”
Lawless also said that, while she probably won’t be trying to physically intervene anymore, she would never stop doing what’s right because she’s fed up with people just “looking the other way when something bad happens.”
In March 2009, then-65 year-old Val Renfro of Fort Worth had finished shopping and was getting into her car when a man shoved her, grabbed her purse and ran off.
Val pulled out her cell phone and dialed 911.
On the 911 tape, Val can be heard shouting, “Put it on the hood, now! You give me my purse, right now.” She then hit the purse-snatcher with her car.
Also heard on the recording, the man said to her that he will return the purse if she rolls down her window. “Like hell I will,” she responded.
At one point, the purse snatcher got away, but other people joined the chase and eventually cornered the man near a movie theater.
“I was madder than hell is what I was,” Renfro said. “I didn't think about anything else except, ‘He’s not going to get away with this.’”
Those are just a couple of examples of what it means to be “Texas tough.”
Our legendary fortitude goes back years. Some would say it goes back centuries.
Lieutenant Harry Buford was actually born in Cuba…and female. Buford was actually Loreta Janeta Velázquez, and while she lived sporadically in Texas, it was in Texas that she wrote her memoirs. She served in the Confederate army and fought as a man until she was wounded and a doctor discovered her secret. She was discharged, only to take up the disguise again and re-enlist. This was a woman determined to fight. For her courage, fortitude and downright eccentricity, she qualifies as a Texan.
Doris Miller was a man named for a woman because the midwife who delivered him was convinced the baby was going to be a girl. Born in Willow Grove, near Waco, Miller grew up to be the first African American hero of World War II.
Miller’s ship was among those berthed on Ford Island in Pearl Harbor on December 7, 1941 when the Japanese struck air, land, and sea forces of the United States. He was picking up dirty laundry when the attack began, and rushed to the deck to learn what was happening.
After helping the ship’s wounded captain, Miller took over a deck gun, though he had never been trained in its use, and started firing at the Japanese fighter planes that continued to strafe and drop bombs on the anchored American ships.
Miller was awarded the Navy Cross for valor beyond his training and assignment. Later, he was assigned to the aircraft carrier, Liscome Bay, as a cook.
The Liscome Bay was torpedoed and lost while engaged in action in the Gilbert Islands on November 24, 1943, and he was lost at sea. Miller was honored by associating his name with the destroyer escort USS Miller.
Eddie Fung was born and raised in San Francisco’s Chinatown, but he dreamed of being a cowboy in Texas. Fung moved to Texas at age 16 and went to work on various ranches north and west of Midland. Anybody that determined to be a Texan deserves the honor, so I’ll count him as one of ours. When World War II happened, Fung joined the Texas National Guard’s 36th Infantry Division. Fung proved to be one of the toughest Texans ever, in that he survived as a prisoner of war in the Japanese POW camps from 1942-1945 through situations that killed most of his fellow American Soldiers. Last I heard, Fung is alive and well and married to Dr. Judy Yung, a retired professor from the University of California, Santa Cruz, and she wrote his biography, The Adventures of Eddie Fung, Chinatown Kid, Texas Cowboy, Prisoner of War.
Texas history is full of Texans, native and naturalized, who have similar tales to tell. Were I to write about them all, this blog would have a higher word count than a James Michener novel.
If it’s true that a people make a place, then that’s what it is about Texas: the people, whether native or naturalized. It’s the fortitude of the people that inspired the slogan, “Don’t mess with Texas,” as a statewide anti-littering campaign that eventually became the mantra of every Texan for just about everything.
We come by our courage not by bravado, but out of necessity. Our history shows over and over again ordinary people suddenly thrown headfirst into impossible circumstances and forced to fight or flee. It was Texan and Fleet Admiral Chester Nimitz who summed up Texan fortitude best when he said, “God grant me the courage not to give up what I think is right even though I think it is hopeless.”
I have to chuckle at our reputation for courage and toughness. Honestly, I don’t think that being a Texan is what makes us that way. I think it’s broader than that. I think it’s because we’re Americans. We have a collective history of fighting for our freedom and independence. We’re still in that fight and probably always will be.
But considering who we are—as a people—well…I think we’ll come out just fine.