The Twenty - One Gun Salute

Guns were fired as salutes in early times, but a twenty-one gun salute is an American Expression according to an official U.S. Navy publication. Guns could not be loaded quickly then, so that firing one in a salute indicated that the saluter had disarmed himself in difference to the person being saluted.

Later as ships became larger twenty-one guns was the greatest number found on one side of one of the larger ships of the line, firing all of them became the highest mark of respect, reserved for heads of state. Fewer numbers of guns were fired in salutes to people of lesser importance; but for any salute only odd numbers are used, reflecting the old seagoing superstition against even numbers. This form of saluting was first recognized in the U.S. in 1875. As Commander-in-Chief, the President is accorded the highest salute of twenty-one guns.

One of our Pearl Harbor Survivors asked the Sergeant of the burial detail why he referred to the honors bestowed as a twenty-one gun salute. As he would have it no other way and his lack of knowledge as leader of the Honor Guard we sought other authority. Our State Department and the Army advise that “Final Honors” for a veteran include 7 riflemen, each firing three shots. Even though these 3 volleys total 21 shots it is not a 21 gun salute! It is three volleys period! The 21 gun salute consists of artillery pieces (or Navy/Marine Corps equivalent) firing a series, one gun at a time at precisely timed intervals. This honor is reserved exclusively for our President and visiting heads of state. Traditionally in the military a rifle is not a gun. Since the Air Force doesn’t include gunners-mates, gunnery sergeants, artillery, etc. they may be excused for their lack of knowledge. However you swabbies, jarheads and grunts should know better. We veterans get three volleys when final honors are rendered, NOT A TWENTY-ONE GUN SALUTE.

(Author unknown)

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