June 18th of this year marked the bicentennial of the Anglo-American War of 1812. It was a conflict that forged some of America's most celebrated naval icons, including Isaac Hull, Oliver Hazard Perry, James Lawrence, and Stephen Decatur, Jr., to name a few. Those who have read the histories will not soon forget Perry's heroics at the Battle of Lake Erie (exploits that earned him the moniker "The Hero of Lake Erie") or Lawrence's dying command, "Don't give up the ship!"
Yet, even among this pantheon of naval officers, one star shines especially bright: Commodore Stephen Decatur, Jr., USN. Decatur's dauntless exploits in the Barbary Wars and the War of 1812 made him a national hero and legend. It turns out that he had a few things in common with another naval legend: Captain James Fitzjames, RN. Both men were noted for their handsome appearances and winning personalities; both implemented clever disguises and narrowly escaped danger in the vicinity of the Middle East. Decatur and Fitzjames were also talented artists: Decatur constructed model ships, while Fitzjames made gorgeous drawings that appear almost photographic. And, sadly, both men died tragic, painful, and very untimely deaths. Decatur lost his life in a duel with fellow officer James Barron, while Fitzjames met his demise on the unforgiving wastes of King William Island, Nunavut.
According to Decatur's Wikipedia entry, a seaman present at his funeral exclaimed, "He was the friend of the flag, the sailor's friend; the navy has lost its mainmast." I think two very storied navies lost their mainmasts with the passing of these remarkable, strikingly similar gentlemen.