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Memorial Day: A Debt of Honor to Those Who Died

By: The Plain Dealer Editorial Board

Commodore Oliver Hazard Perry’s famous dispatch summarizing the Battle of Lake Erie in September 1813 — “We have met the enemy and they are ours” — is widely familiar. Victories tend to produce better quotations than defeats.

But this Memorial Day, almost 200 years after Perry slammed the door on the British attempt to invade the United States from what was then its northwest frontier, offers a fitting moment to reflect on the power of a few words uttered in defeat.

“Don’t give up the ship.”

That was the final order spoken by Perry’s mortally wounded friend and fellow officer, Capt. James Lawrence, minutes before a British boarding party overwhelmed and defeated the crew of the U.S. frigate Chesapeake on June 1, 1813.

Perry had the phrase sewn into his battle flag. When the Battle of Lake Erie began, it was flying from the mast of his flagship — a 493-ton brig christened the Lawrence, in memory of the defeated captain.

When Perry’s ship was disabled by enemy fire, he transferred his flag to the brig Niagara, fought on, won the battle and immortalized both his own phrase and Lawrence’s.

This is a day to recall, in a special, formal way, the immortal memories of mortal men and women — Americans who gave their lives in defense of this nation.

Lawrence’s final order speaks, in a sense, for all of them. From Lexington to Lake Erie to Chapultepec to Gettysburg to Belleau Wood to Midway to Inchon to Khe Sahn to Kuwait to Fallujah, American Marines, soldiers, sailors and airmen have always fought for something larger than themselves.

They fought for the American ideal. They died to keep us free. We dare not hold their sacrifice cheaply.

Memorial Day Post Pic

Speech from the Historic Transfer of Command Ceremony

Admiral… Distinguish Guests… Family and Friends…

On behalf of the Perry Group, we are honored to be here and I am truly humbled to stand here. Thank you all for your journey today. You arrived by air, by sea and by land. We all came to this place and the message we are sending to our friends in the Naval and Coast Guard services, could not be any clearer. If I AM HERE and You Are Here, the Navy and Coast Guard have a Home here! Thank you for your service and for keeping our Great Lake safe and open for the past 200 years for all of us to enjoy.

Today we come together in our own time capsule and recreated a journey generations have read about, and millions have dreamt about. Imagine if any legendary naval figure could come alive today, set foot onboard his ship, or meet his successors in command. Today was not a quaint ceremony or pomp, but a sensible display of who we are. We traveled 200 years in time to witness where we were, where we have traveled and to celebrate all of those who have served.

As we move forward next year to celebrate the Bicentennial of the Battle of Lake Erie it is our living history and the resulting peace we enjoy that is foremost in our thinking. The monument at Put-in-Bay, visitor’s center, and various museums are tangible reminders of this important past.

In 2013 the Bicentennial of the Battle of Lake Erie will be celebrated and remembered as one of the turning points in the War of 1812. Absent victory the borders of the great State of Ohio may have changed and our western expansion could have been altered. Your presence today speaks volumes as to your respect for our nation’s history and remembering the important lessons to be shared in our future.

Ohio is home to a world class group of seaman, pioneers, and leaders. While other states claim their accomplishments, let the world take note. Apples and peaches, orange and nuts are all here on earth. Our place is there, and the first person there, came from right here. The single greatest achievement in the history of mankind was putting a man on the moon. Tonight when you leave here the path will be lit by a brilliant moon. This week we lost a great Navy man, an Ohioan who was a respected friend who pioneered a path to achievement. We are saddened by the loss of Neil Armstrong. And in an odd sort of way, tonight he lights our journey going forward. As you may all remember we chose to go to the moon not because it was easy, but because it was hard. The goal we set was to measure ourselves and the challenge was one we were willing to accept. Today we all take another step forward and move to educate our family and friends as to the importance of 1813 and the Battle of Lake Erie. The mission begins anew and we need everyone’s help. Let it never be stated we are a generation who bears no witness to our history. Let it be written when the test of time came, we kicked down the doors of complacency, proceeded with vengeance and lit the flame of remembrance brighter than ever before.

Thank you for standing with us today. We all thank the Navy and the Coast Guard for their forever presence. In September 2013 Stand With Us and help the world remember the Bicentennial of the Battle of Lake Erie. It is our time.

Speech Given by Dave Zavagno

OSU Marching Band to Play for Bicentennial Celebration

Cleveland, Ohio — November 23, 2011 The organizing committee planning a regional celebration for The Battle of Lake Erie Bicentennial today announced that The Ohio State University Marching Band will perform the 1812 Overture and other patriotic favorites at Put-in-Bay, Ohio on September 1, 2013.

“When the OSU Marching Band travels north this week for the Buckeyes’ game against Michigan, they’ll pass the site of one of our nation’s most important and historic events—The Battle of Lake Erie,” said David Zavagno, Bicentennial Chairman of the Perry Group. “We’re thrilled that one of our country’s great marching bands has joined our campaign to remember and celebrate it.”

On September 10, 1813, Oliver Hazard Perry of the U.S. Navy—sailing under a crudely-lettered flag of “Don’t Give Up the Ship”—led 557 brave patriots to victory over the British Royal Navy in “The Battle of Lake Erie” near Put-in-Bay, Ohio. Perry’s victory message to the general inspired our young nation: “We have met the enemy and they are ours.”

Considered by historians as the turning point in the War of 1812, The Battle of Lake Erie secured U.S. control of the Great Lakes, forced a British retreat and led to our current peaceful border with Canada. The Battle of Lake Erie marked the first U.S. Navy fleet victory and the first time an entire British Royal Navy squadron was captured by an enemy force.

Zavagno said the Battle of Lake Erie Bicentennial Celebration over Labor Day weekend in 2013 will also include a large fleet of Tall Ships in a historic reenactment of the battle on its original site, a grand Parade of Sail, and Port Festivals in waterfront cities in the U.S. and Canada.

Surrounding days will include a series of historical, educational and festival events that will attract hundreds of thousands of people to the Lake Erie region from Cleveland to Toledo, said Zavagno. “The Battle of Lake Erie Bicentennial will honor Commodore Perry and the 557 brave patriots who fought in the Battle, help educate this generation about our rich history, and celebrate Ohio’s role in America’s fight for freedom,” said Zavagno.
The Perry Group is a volunteer, nonprofit organization working with the National Park Service as well as the local, national and international community.   The Group honors Commodore Oliver Hazard Perry, who led the U.S. Navy to victory in the Battle of Lake Erie, and celebrates the long-lasting peace between the United States, Britain and Canada.

Since 1989, The Perry Group has supported Perry’s Victory and International Peace Memorial in its educational, historic and peacekeeping goals through the promotion and sponsorship of the
Memorial’s programs and special events. Perry’s Memorial is located at Put-in-Bay on South Bass Island, Ohio.

The Group is offering opportunities for 557 persons to participate in the Labor Day, 2013 reenactment of the Battle of Lake Erie aboard Tall Ships. Patrons may enlist as Crew Members in the reenactment or be part of the Bicentennial Fleet or Militia.

For more information, visit www.BattleofLakeErie-Bicentennial.com

  • Event Schedule

    Sun. Sept 10, 2016

    Annual Commemoration of The Battle of Lake Erie