Stephen Decatur was, perhaps, the first war hero of an independent United States. He was born in 1779 and when he was 17 he found himself working for a shipbuilder and then serving on board a U.S. navy ship. He liked it and joined the navy outright, and with his studies in college he quickly became an officer.
In 1803, he was a Lieutenant in the Navy serving on board a ship in the Mediterranean, patrolling against pirates. Some of the pirates were sponsored by the Sultan of Algiers and they captured a U.S. ship called the Philadelphia. Stephen took command of a smaller ship called the Enterprise and used it to capture a pirate ship which he re-named Intrepid. He then sailed Intrepid into the harbor where the pirates were trying to take the guns and other supplies off the Philadelphia. After steering a course directly for the captured ship, he lit the Intrepid on fire and jumped off at the last second, swimming back to the Enterprise before sailing away to safety. For his heroics he was made captain at age 25.
He saw action again in the War of 1812. He was the only person in the Navy to capture a British ship, and sailed it home safely so the U.S. Navy could use it in the war; after that, he sailed again and this time captured an entire British squadron. Then peace was made between England and the U.S., and Stephen was sent back to the Mediterranean, where he captured more pirate ships.
In the last few years of his life, he was a commissioner of the Navy, working to make the military strong and able to handle threats against the country. It was at this time that he said of the country he loved so very much, “may she always be in the right, but our country right or wrong!”
The Sixty-Second Patriot series of posts is intended to provide teachers who are required to engage in patriotic exercises with truthful, age-appropriate, meaningful, educationally-rich, non-controversial, secular alternatives to rote recital of the Pledge of Allegiance, as well as brief meditations on American history, civics, and values accessible to all people. Suggestions and contributions to this series from Readers are welcome.