One of my all time heroes in American History is Commodore Oliver “Hazard” Perry of the U.S.Navy whose command was during the War of 1812. When you read about Perry, you discover that he had a very distinguished naval career prior to and following the Battle of Lake Erie. His battle flag read,” Don’t Give up the Ship” in deference to his great friend Captain James Lawrence who commanded the original frigate in peril during the battle. Lawrence was a fatality, but the command shifted to the frigate Niagra where Perry took over and eventually defeated the British Navy forcing them to surrender. His famous line,” We have met the enemy and they are ours” is a testament to the tenacity of an outgunned, undermanned U.S.Navy whose leadership under Perry was able to take on and defeat the most powerful navy in the world.
During my travels to Rochester, NY or Toledo, Ohio, I always had my road bike with me and made a point to stop and ride at Presque Isle on Lake Erie. There is a monument there dedicated to the construction of the ships that made up Perry’s command during the War of 1812, in and around Presque Isle and the bay. A similar monument and visitors center is situated at Put In Bay in Ohio. One of the famous Lake Erie Islands, Put In Bay is easily accessed by the ferry www.jet-express.com/ at Port Clinton, Ohio. I always took a ride on the ferry, rode my bike along the quiet roads on the island and always stopped at the monument and took in the video presentation of the Battle of Lake Erie at the visitors center which is managed by the National Park Service. . The presentation by the Park Rangers is worth the listen and it is always a must on any trip to Put In Bay. The scenic roads around Presque Isle in Erie, Pa and the country roads of the Lake Erie islands always remind me of my youth when my folks took us to the lake for vacation. As I peddle along and see the cottages along the routes, it reminds me of a time gone by with swims in the lake, penny candy, and evenings along the shore looking at the stars.
But perhaps my most recent memories are again centered around this famous battle flag….” Don’t Give Up the Ship.” When my son Jack played AAU Basketball as a grade school kid, we always had tournaments in Erie, Pa. I always took the boys and the parents down to this little restaurant on the bay which had good seafood but more importantly to me, had this flag proudly displayed behind the bar. As we all assembled around the bar waiting for our table, I took the opportunity to tell the boys the story of the Battle of Lake Erie and the courageous actions of one Oliver “Hazard” Perry. ” Don’t Give up the Ship” was a rallying cry for our teams as we faced teams from all over the east and Canada in the AAU Tournaments. We saw talented players who were much bigger and faster than our guys and we knew we had to face them in the next round. As I began to get carried away with my enthusiasm for the Battle and the success of the frigate Niagra, I would encourage the boys to not give up the ship and remember the heroics of Perry and his men. As their eyes widened with my overachieving enthusiasm, I was able to incite a little courage and oftentimes our Davids defeated the Goliaths on the basketball courts and we advanced to the final rounds. I like to think that my speech in front of that flag was enough to attain the victory and that the boys were encouraged enough to play their hearts out. Well, in reality, I can’t take credit for that for sure. But a little encouragement goes a long way and helps to fuel the fire of competition. As the years went by, I repeated the story to several of my son’s teams and when they were juniors in high school and in their last years of AAU Tournaments, it got to the point where my son preempted my speech by saying,” Don’t say it Dad!!!” ” We have all heard it and we know…………..Don’t Give up the Ship.” We all laughed but I looked at that flag with a fire in my eyes for our team and for my hero- Oliver” Hazard” Perry.
I have always been a fan of the underdog. The little guys on a team, the kid that always strikes out, the kid with little talent but a lot of heart, the friend who has lost his job, the divorced friend who is trying to find peace, the downtrodden, the parents facing a child’s medical procedure with a life in the balance. These are the people in our lives who need encouragement. These are the people who need a friend at the times when it might not be convenient. These are the folks whose name I write on my pad at work so that I don’t forget to give them a call or get together with them. My memory is a little sketchy these days. But these are the folks whose hope needs restored. My mom always said to have a friend is to be a friend. She was so right. Encouragement is the fuel for recovery and whether we invite a person to dinner, ride bikes, ski, hike, or any activity in which conversation can be shared, it is well worth it and no matter how badly the person is defeated, the care of a friend saying,” Don’t Give up the Ship” is appreciated and may turn the tide for that person………..just like the Battle of Lake Erie. Call a friend today. Thanks for reading.