For Those We Honor: The Navy Hymn

“The Navy Hymn” offers a reminder that there is a free world and a not so free world out there. And sometimes those who serve and protect for that purpose pay the price of freedom with their lives. We salute those who died that we may live.

From 2003 to 2010 the Navy Department reports that 8,623 Navy and Marine personnel were killed in Iraq alone.

But with patriotism falling victim to political correctness and global values, America has forgotten Naval heroes like the five Sullivan Brothers, Irish-American boys from Iowa who wanted to serve together and went down on the USS Juneau during the battle for Guadalcanal in 1942.

Today, for fear of offending NATO ally Germany, the president of the world’s greatest superpower no longer visits the Normandy beaches to honor those who helped bring an end to Hitler and the Holocaust and who paid the ultimate price.

“The Navy Hymn” is a powerful emotional reminder that freedom does have a price. The music was written in 1860 by William Whiting of Winchester, England, featuring lyrics by clergyman John. P. Dykes. It was first used by the Royal Navy and the Royal Marines and found its way across the Atlantic. Sometimes it is called “For Those Who In Peril On The Sea.”

Celebrity songsters haven’t rushed to record it like they did with the melancholy “Danny Boy” because it is a song for those who know the sea as a place of battle. You can hear it sung around Bancroft Hall at the U.S. Naval Academy and its chapel in Annapolis. But it’s not amped up much by the TV coverage of the annual Army-Navy football game.

Because Dallas Cowboys legendary coach Tom Landry’s offensive lines kept former Annapolis star quarterback Roger Staubach from getting sacked as much as Troy Aikman did, the patriotic former NFL Super Bowl star can probably recall the words to the Hymn from memory. At Annapolis young plebes like Staubach are always encouraged to memorize the Hymn as part of their first year experience.

But athletes don’t join the Navy anymore. They just Tweet images of themselves when they visit the troops at Bagram Air Base in Afghanistan. Pro footballers appeals to God on the gridiron are acted out with Tebowing and raising a finger into the sky for Jesus after a touchdown or a home run.

In his new viral video success “I’m Dreaming of a White President” songster Randy Newman used Republican presidents who never served their country in the Navy or any other armed service. Taft was too fat. Harding didn’t like the Navy and cut their budget. Hoover and Coolidge did not serve. Newman left out a couple of Navy men who made a difference for all Americans.  John F. Kennedy and former assistant secretary of the Navy Franklin D. Roosevelt.  “The Navy Hymn” was played at the memorial services for both presidents.

And it was sung at the ceremony to commemorate those who died in terrorist suicide bombing of the USS Cole.

The death toll for U.S. troops in the Afghanistan war has now topped two thousand with a pricetag of over $22 billion just over the past three years. Last year a Chinook helicopter crash killed 30 Navy SEALS. Maybe it’s time America heard the Navy Hymn to honor them.


About Author

Eric is a digital nomad who writes on sports, politics and culture. He is a member of PEN, one of the original bloggers on the HuffPo World section and is one of the pioneering contributors to Rolling Stone starting in 1968 working under co-founder Jann S. Wenner. Eric resides in Brazil and is fluent in five languages. His work has appeared in the Chicago Tribune, Christian Science Monitor, Huffington Post, National Review, New York Times and USA Today. Photo credit, Eric Ehrmann.