Have you ever heard a 21 gun salute given at a military funeral?

The first one I experienced was at the funeral of a WWII flight nurse. She had told me stories of her involvement and I listened, just as I have heard hundreds of stories from veterans and their families. Funerals are typically solemn and respectful, and yet to hear the guns fire, made me emotional. The bursts of sound, followed by the playing of Taps, made me proud of my country, and filled me with awe and respect for the service this woman did, specifically. It was a level of respect and honor I hadn’t experienced before.

The practice itself dates back to warriors, who would place spears in the ground, point-side down to display the lack of hostility. Later, ships coming into harbor would shoot into the open sea to fully discharge their weapons to exhibit the same sign of peace.

This tradition evolved with the change of weaponry in the 14th century. Battlefields were equipped with cannons and firearms and their blasts at the end of battle where to discharge the weapon. Additionally, three fires were a sign to cease fire to allow for the clearing of the dead from the field. It was then used again to signify they were cleared and taken care of, allowing battle to resume.

Today, the use of firing salutes is used in military funerals to honor the fallen for their service. Given its history of being used to signify the end of hostility and battle, the metaphor it creates in regard to the the end of life, full of its own battles, is poetic.

The 21-Gun Salute vs. the 3-Volley Salute

Many people mistakenly confuse a 21-gun salute with a 3-volley salute. A true 21-gun salute is reserved for heads of state and heads of government and is considered the highest honor to be given. The number of rounds fired have to do with branch and rank of the deceased. In the 3-Volley Salute, a variety of shooting weapons can be used. The firing team can consist of any number of shooters and they fire together 3 times.

Military Funeral Honors

Funeral Salutes are one of many military traditions for funerals, and is part of VA benefits available for retired military, honorably discharged veterans and veterans killed in the line of duty. It is not a guaranteed benefit, as it is subject to availability.

Military funeral honors include the folding and presentation of the American Flag and the sounding of Taps. Taps, performed by a bugle, and Salutes, are subject to availability. Veteran’s family members can request military funeral honors through the funeral director who then contacts the appropriate Military Service to arrange the honors.

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