May 25, 2009

Hymns for Memorial Day

by Joyce DiPastena

During the televised memorial services for those who died in the bombing of the Navy destroyer USS Cole in 2000, the Navy band played a tune that struck me as particularly beautiful. When I mentioned it to my mother, she immediately sprang up and pulled out her old “Song and Service Book for Ship and Field” from her days in the Navy WAVES. She flipped to a page in the book and handed it to me. As soon as the memorial services were over, I went over to our piano and played and sang the song that the Navy band had performed. The words brought me to tears. They are as follows:

1. Eternal Father, strong to save,
Whose arm doth bind the restless wave,
Who bidd’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.

2. O Saviour whose almighty word
The winds and waves submissive heard,
Who walked’st on the foaming deep,
And calm amidst its rage didst sleep;
O hear us when we cry to Thee
For those in peril on the sea.

3. O Sacred Spirit, who didst brood
Upon the chaos dark and rude,
Who bad’st its angry tumult cease,
And gavest light and life and peace;
O hear us, when we cry to Thee
For those in peril on the sea.

4. 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 ever let there rise to Thee
Glad hymns of praise from land and sea.

This song, “Eternal Father, Strong to Save” is also known as the “Navy Hymn”. I decided to do an internet search on this hymn this Memorial Day weekend, and discovered that additional verses have been added to this hymn since my mother served in the Navy in the 1940s. Some of these verses recognize other branches of the U.S. Armed Services…and more! I thought you might enjoy reading the words to a few of them on this Memorial Day.

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 God, our power evermore,

Whose 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

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 thy grace 

For those who soar through outer space.

-- J.E. Volonte, 1961

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 thy might.

--author unknown, about 1955

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!

--Author and date unknown

“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.” (Source: Naval History and Heritage Command website:

May we each take time to remember on this day those far away on land and sea, past and present, the guardians of our precious freedoms!

(Click here to send a free postcard to our troops!)


  1. Thank you very much for that, Joyce. As someone with family members overseas in the armed services and a vast family history of military service, I really appreciate the sentiments. It is nice to know there are still people who remember the purpose of Memorial Day and take the time to reflect on those who serve and those who have given everything for the cause of freedom.

  2. Joyce, thank you. That is so beautiful. I would love to find the sheet music for this song and am glad to know you love music as I do.

  3. My thanks, too, Joyce. I like the way your mother responded to your slight wish, and then how you followed up with research. Sometimes I do, too, but usually I just think about it.

    Every great movement has its own music to enhance it. (No, I haven't researched that all-inclusive and positive statement, but I still like it, and add more.) Music touches the soul in ways words can only approach. Put the two together, and it's a powerful part of what makes our life understandable and worthwhile.

  4. The sheet music to the hymn, "Eternal Father, Strong to Save", can be found at It's in the public domain, so anyone is welcome to print it out.

  5. I always pass along these things to my dad who's a vet who passes them along to other vets. I want them to know how much I care.

  6. Thank you Joyce - I read/listen to our patriotic hymns and am cheered to know there are many who trust in the hand of God. Sometimes our world seems so secular, but those who put their lives on the line for others, they know otherwise. Rene


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