One of the lingering memories of attending any military service at the United States Naval Academy (Annapolis) is hearing the concluding hymn “Eternal Father, Strong to Save.” The song is also referred to as “The Navy Hymn” and was written in 1861 as a hymn by a schoolmaster and clergyman of the Church of England, the Rev. William Whiting who had survived a terrible storm at sea. By 1869, the song was added to Sunday’s Divine Services at the US Naval Academy with the singing of the first verse of this hymn. The first of the original four stanzas is:
Eternal Father, Strong to save,
Whose arm hath bound the restless wave,
Who bid’st the mighty Ocean deep
Its own appointed limits keep;
O hear us when we cry to thee,
for those in peril on the sea.
Since then, there have been additional lyrics added including this one for the United States Marine Corps:
Eternal Father, grant, we pray
To all Marines, both night and day,
The courage, honor, strength, and skill
Their land to serve, thy law fulfill;
Be thou the shield forevermore
From every peril to the Corps.
–J.E. Seim, 1966
I remembered hearing the song for the first time at President John F. Kennedy’s funeral services which were broadcast on TV when I was in third grade. Both of my sons attended Annapolis, graduating in 2009 and 2010, and I heard the song sung at all special occasions, some in celebration and other times in tribute. I cannot hear the song without tearing up.
On this Memorial Day, here is a 2007 recording of the Naval Academy Glee Club singing the song on the USS Arizona Memorial.