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    Sunday, May 30, 2004

    In Memorium: The Medpundit family spent yesterday in the Lake Erie Islands. The islands were the site of a decisive naval battle in the War of 1812, the Battle of Lake Erie. And South Bass Island is the home of the Perry Victory Monument and International Peace Memorial, the third tallest memorial monuement in the world. (Guess the first and second.)

    They weren't just giving lip service to the idea of international peace when they built the monument. It is both a memorial to Commander Oliver Hazard Perry who led the American fleet, and to the men who died on both sides that day. The remains of three British and three American officers who died that day are buried beneath its floor, and its walls are inscribed with the names of the men who served in both the British and the American ships.

    The battle was a momentous and a dramatic one, though it was carried out by junior officers. (Neither was a full captain. Parry was a commander. His counterpart, Robert Barclay, was a lieutenant.) Parry's ship The Lawrence, was battered into oblivion by the British, while his second in command for some reason kept his ship, The Niagra out of harms way. Parry grabbed The Lawrence's battle flag, emblazoned with "Don't Give Up The Ship," the dying words of Perry's friend, Captain James Lawrence, and with a handful of men, rowed a launch a half mile against the wind to take over command of The Niagra.

    Battle of Lake Erie, William Henry Powell, 1873, U.S. Capitol

    In a move that would have made Nelson proud (even though he hated Americans), he sailed through the British line and destroyed or captured their entire fleet, the first time in history that anyone did that to the British Navy. His official report was brief and to the point "We have met the enemy and they are ours." The victory put an end to British dominance of the Great Lakes, and gave the struggling United States a much needed advantage in the war. (You can read a riveting account of the full battle and a sober analysis of it here, by none other than Teddy Roosevelt.)

    Perry died a few years later of yellow fever while serving in South America. Barclay, who had lost an arm at Trafalgar, lost the use of his remaining one in the battle. In light of his crippling wounds, he wrote his fiancee to offer her a release from their engagement. She told him that if there were enough of his body left to house his soul, she would marry him. And so they did, producing eight children.

    This year marks the 190th year of peace between Great Britain and the United States. And so this Memorial Day, may we remember and honor men (and women) like Robert Barclay and Oliver Parry who gave their all in the service of their country.

    posted by Sydney on 5/30/2004 09:09:00 AM 0 comments


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