Friday was truly a special day for Texans. Not only was it Texas Independence Day, but it also marked the birthday of the state’s most historic figure.

And the folks in Huntsville made sure the man who has meant so much to the community was honored with a top-notch celebration.

City and county officials, along with representatives from Sam Houston State University, other organizations and citizens gathered at Oakwood Cemetery for a ceremony to commemorate Gen. Sam Houston’s 219th birthday at his burial site.

The event was hosted by the Walker County Historical Commission and members of the Sam Houston State University ROTC presented the colors, Silver Taps was played and a 21-gun salute was fired in honor of Houston.

SHSU students, who are members of the Webb Society, joined the ROTC in a march with the U.S. and Texas flags from the school’s campus to Oakwood Cemetery.

“This is the 31st annual recreation of this event in the modern era,” Walker County Historical Commission chairman Lee Murrah said. “We want to thank Sam Houston State University, the Sam Houston Memorial Museum and the City of Huntsville for helping us with the event.”

State Rep. Dan Branch, R-Dallas, was the keynote speaker. Branch, chairman of the House Committee on Higher Education, delivered a speech that several times drew applause from the nice-sized crowd on hand as he talked about Houston’s legacy, visions and how much he valued education.

He applied some of Houston’s beliefs and said that the former Texas hero’s courage to do what he felt was right, even though it was not in sync with the popular sentiment at the time, should be a model for future leaders.

Branch mentioned how Houston talked his troops out of hanging Santa Anna following the Battle of San Jacinto because he felt they needed the Mexican general for leverage in gaining Texas’s independence from Mexico. Branch also talked about how Houston opposed secession during the Civil War because he loved Texas so much that he did not want to bring civil strife and bloodshed upon the state even though it cost him his seat as governor.

“Today we need leaders with real courage and real honesty and with the ability to confront real problems and then work to get solutions,” Branch said. “We need leaders who respond fearlessly when confronted with that most famous of long distance phone calls, ‘Houston, we have a problem.’

“Leaders who will listen and act, and when needed, shape coalitions and compromises in order to get things done. ... So we need more folks like the General with the courage to do what was politically incorrect, but ultimately in judgment of history, many of his judgments turned out to be wise indeed.”

Other speakers at Friday’s event included Mayor Mac Woodward, County Judge Danny Pierce, SHSU President Dr. Dana Gibson and Alabama-Coushatta Tribal Chief Clayton Sylestine.

James Patton introduced special guests and baptized nonTexans. With music being played by Jan Cole, Lastell McVey entertained  the crowd by singing “Beautiful Texas” and “Texas, Our Texas.”