|Draping the Casket with the National Flag
When the U.S. flag covers the casket, it is placed so the union blue field is at
the head and over the left shoulder. It is not placed in the grave and is not
allowed to touch the ground.
|Flags for Military Funerals
Flags are provided for burial services of
service members and veterans. The flag
for one who dies on active duty is
provided by one's branch of service. Flags
for other veterans are provided by the
Department of Veterans Affairs. The flag is
presented to the next of kin at the end of
the funeral, usually by the military chaplain.
If there is no next of kin present, the flag may be presented to the veteran's
close friend or associate if requested. The flags that have draped the caskets
of the Unknown Soldiers are on display in the Memorial Display Room of the
|Firing Three Rifle Volleys Over the Grave
This practice originated in the old custom of halting the fighting to remove
the dead from the battlefield. Once each army had cleared its dead, it would
fire three volleys to indicate that the dead had been cared for and that they
were ready to go back to the fight. The fact that the firing party consists of
seven riflemen, firing three volleys does not constitute a 21-gun salute.
|21 Gun Salute
All personal salutes may be traced to the prevailing use in earlier days to
ensure that the saluter placed himself in an unarmed position. Salute by
gunfire is a most-ancient ceremony. The British for years compelled weaker
nations to make the first salute, but in time international practice compelled
"Gun for Gun" in the principle of an equality of nations.
In the earliest days, seven guns was a recognized British National Salute.
Those early regulations stated that, although a ship could fire only seven guns,
the forts could fire for honors three shots to one shot afloat. In that day
powder of sodium nitrate
was easier to keep on shore
than at sea. In time, when the
quality of gun powder
improved by the use of
potassium nitrate, the sea
salute was made equal to the
shore salute, 21 guns as the
highest national honor.
Although for a period of time,
monarchies received more
guns than republics,
eventually republics claimed equality.
There was much confusion caused by the varying customs of maritime states,
but finally the British government proposed to the United States a regulation
that provided for "Salute to be Returned Gun for Gun." The and the United
States adopted the 21-gun and "Gun for Gun Return" August 17, 1875.
Previous to that time, our national salute was one gun for each state. The
practice was also a result of usage -- John Paul Jones saluted France with 13
guns (one for each state) at Quiberon Bay when the Stars and Stripes received
its first salute. This practice was not authorized until 1810.
By the admission of states to the Union, the salute reached 21 guns by 1818.
In 1841, the national salute was reduced to 21 guns. In fact, the 1875
adoption of the British suggestion because a formal announcement that the
United States recognized 21 guns as an international salute.
"Taps" is an American call, composed by
the Union Army's Brigadier General Daniel
Butterfield at Harrison's Landing, Virginia,
in 1862. The call soon became known as
"Taps" because it was often tapped out on
a drum in the absence of a bugler.
The call was officially adopted by the U.S.
Army in 1874.
|Courtesy of the Military District of Washington
|Military Burials at Sea
(See: Burials at Sea)
|Military Funeral Traditions
|Practice of Firing Cannon Salutes
The custom of firing cannon salutes
originated in the British Navy. When
a cannon was fired, it partially
disarmed the ship. Therefore, firing
a cannon in salute symbolizes respect
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