Eternal Father, Strong to Save: The Navy Hymn


“Eternal Father, Strong to Save,” commonly known as The Navy Hymn, was sung at the funeral of President Gerald Ford today.

“Eternal Father, Strong to Save”: The Navy Hymn

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.

O Christ! Whose voice the waters heard

And hushed their raging at Thy word,

Who walked’st on the foaming deep,

and calm amidst its rage didst sleep;

Oh hear us when we cry to Thee

For those in peril on the sea!

Most Holy spirit! Who didst brood

Upon the chaos dark and rude,

And bid its angry tumult cease,

And give, for wild confusion, peace;

Oh, hear us when we cry to Thee

For those in peril on the sea!

O Trinity of love and power!

Our brethren shield in danger’s hour;

From rock and tempest, fire and foe,

Protect them wheresoe’er they go;

Thus evermore shall rise to Thee,

Glad hymns of praise from land and sea.

Text from a publication of the Bureau of Naval Personnel


This hymn is often used at funerals for personnel who served in or were associated with the Navy. Eternal Father was the favorite hymn of President Franklin D. Roosevelt and was sung at his funeral at Hyde Park, New York in April 1945. Roosevelt had served as Secretary of the Navy. This hymn was also played as President John F. Kennedy’s body was carried up the steps of the capitol to lie in state.

More verses at the jump.

More from the Navy

O Christ, the Lord of hill and plain

O’er which our traffic runs amain,

by mountain pass or valley low,

Wherever Lord thy brethren go;

Protect them by Thy guardian hand

From every peril on the land.

O Spirit, Whom the Father send

To spread abroad the Firmament;

O wind of heaven, by Thy Might,

Save all who dare the eagle’s flight;

And keep them by Thy watchful care

From every peril in the air.

Lord, guard and guide the men who fly,

Through the great spaces of the sky;

Be with them traversing the air,

In darkening storms or sunshine fair.

O God, protect the men who fly,

Through lonely ways beneath the sky.

Apparently, during or shortly after World War II, someone in the Navy familiar with the words above adapted this verse for choral rendition. The adaptation changed a word or two here and there and substituted two new fifth and six lines. What some might call the Naval Aviation version is a follows:

Lord, guard and guide the men who fly

Through the great spaces in the sky,

Be with them always in the air,

In dark’ning storms or sunlight fair.

O, Hear us when we lift our prayer,

For those in peril in the air.

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

Lord, stand beside the men who build

And give them courage, strength, and skill.

O grant them peace of heart and mind,

And comfort loved ones left behind.

Lord, hear our prayer for all Seabees,

Where’er they be on land or sea.

–R.J. Dietrich, 1960

Lord God, our power evermore,

Who arm doth reach the ocean floor,

Dive with our men beneath the sea;

Traverse the depths protectively.

O hear us when we pray, and keep

them safe from peril in the deep.

–David B. Miller, 1965

O God, protect the women who,

in service, faith in thee renew;

O guide devoted hands of skill

And bless their work within thy will;

Inspire their lives that they may be

Examples fair on land and sea.

— Lines 1-4, Merle E. Strickland, 1972,

and adapted by James D. Shannon, 1973.

Lines 5-6, Beatrice M. Truitt, 1948

Creator, Father, who dost show

Thy splendor in the ice and snow,

Bless those who toil in summer light

And through the cold Antarctic night,

As they thy frozen wonders learn;

Bless those who wait for their return.

— L.E. Vogel, 1965

Eternal Father, Lord of hosts,

Watch o’er the men who guard our coasts.

Protect them from the raging seas

And give them light and life and peace.

Grant them from thy great throne above

The shield and shelter of thy love.

— Author and date unknown

Eternal Father, King of birth,

Who didst create the heaven and earth,

And bid the planets and the sun

Their own appointed orbits run;

O hear us when we seek they grace

For those who soar through outer space.

— J.E. Volonte, 1961

Creator, Father, who first breathed

In us the life that we received,

By power of they breath restore

The ill, and men with wounds of war.

Bless those who give their healing care,

That life and laughter all may share

— Galen H. Meyer, 1969

Adapted by James D. Shannon, 1970

God, who dost still the restless foam,

Protect the ones we love at home.

Provide that they should always be

By thine own grace both safe and free.

O Father, hear us when we pray

For those we love so far away.

— Hugh Taylor, date unknown

Lord, guard and guide the men who fly

And those who on the ocean ply;

Be with our troops upon the land,

And all who for their country stand:

Be with these guardians day and night

And may their trust be in they might.

— author unknown, about 1955

O Father, King of earth and sea,

We dedicate this ship to thee.

In faith we send her on her way;

In faith to thee we humbly pray:

O hear from heaven our sailor’s cry

And watch and guard her from on high!

Author and date unknown

And when at length her course is run,

Her work for home and country done,

Of all the souls that in her sailed

Let not one life in thee have failed;

But hear from heaven our sailor’s cry,

And grant eternal life on high!

The original words were written as a hymn by a schoolmaster and clergyman of the Church of England, the Rev. William Whiting. Rev. Whiting (1825-1878) resided on the English coast near the sea and had once survived a furious storm in the Mediterranean. His experiences inspired him to pen the ode, Eternal Father, Strong to Save. In the following year, 1861, the words were adapted to music by another English clergyman, the Rev. John B. Dykes (1823-1876), who had originally written the music as “Melita” — ancient name for the Mediterranean island of Malta – Rev. Dykes’ name may be recognized as that of the composer given credit for the music to many other well-known hymns, including “Holy, Holy, Holy,” “Lead, Kindly Light,” “Jesus, Lover of My Soul,” and “Nearer, My God to Thee.”

The hymn, entitled Eternal Father, Strong to Save, is found in most Protestant Hymnals. It can be more easily located in these hymnals by consulting the “Index to First Lines” under “Eternal Father, Strong to Save.” The words have been changed several times since the original hymn by Reverand Whiting was first published in 1860-61. One will find that the verses as now published differ from the original primarily in the choice of one or two words in several lines of each verse.


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