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New meaning of retirement

By Jennie L. Phipps ·
Monday, September 2, 2013
Posted: 6 am ET

It's Labor Day, and my husband and I intend to spend it fighting the Battle of Lake Erie -- from a distance and in the comfort and safety of our own boat.

This is the 200th anniversary of the decisive battle of the War of 1812 when Oliver Hazard Perry and hundreds of other seamen prevailed over the British fleet near Put-in-Bay, Ohio. "We have met the enemy, and they are ours," Perry wrote Gen. William Henry Harrison.

Today's re-enactment will involve more than 1,000 volunteers and thousands more spectators from both the U.S. and Canada.

The other famous quote associated with this battle is "Don't give up the ship." These were the dying words of young James Lawrence, the commander of the USS Chesapeake, who lost his life in a battle against the HMS Shannon three months before the Battle of Lake Erie. Perry, who was a friend of Lawrence, adopted the phrase and had it embroidered on his personal battle flag.

Perry was born in 1785 and he was only 28 when he commanded the victorious fleet on Lake Erie. He died in 1819 of yellow fever, contracted on a peaceful diplomatic mission to South America.

Life in those days was hard -- and short. The word retirement was defined then as "Moving away from something dangerous or disagreeable," according to the Merriam-Webster dictionary. The word was often used in a military sense: "Military historians have blamed the defeat on that battalion's retirement from the front lines."

Today, retirement is rarely fatal. While it once marked the start of old age, for many it now means little more than a career change, the time when a worker gains the freedom to change direction and set new priorities. In that context, Labor Day has a whole new meaning and offers a different reason to celebrate.

Happy Labor Day and happy retirement planning.

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