Your Guide to Funeral Planning | 03.25.2024

What Does It Mean To Have A 21 Salute Funeral And Who Gets it?

What Does It Mean To Have A 21 Salute Funeral And Who Gets it?

Reviewed By: William Prout

Cross Checked By: Joshua Siegel

What Is The 21 Gun Salute?

The 21 Gun Salute is the most recognizable honorary gun salute, recognized as a military honor. It is conducted by the firing of cannons. Over time, and as a custom of the navy, it has evolved to be fired at certain expectations, occupations and for specific important figures. The number of shots fired in a salute is dependent on the occasion or rank of the person. 

Historically, the 21 Gun Salute dates back to a time before guns even ever existed. Warriors and soldiers engaging in combat have signaled their defeat or no harm by throwing down their swords. This later developed into cannons and guns. Since reloading firearms was once a tedious practice, allowing you to only fire a single shot at once, crew members on ships would fire all their weapons at one time. This idea of collective firing marked the birth of the 21-Gun salute, which evolved into a traditional honor over time. Accepting one’s vulnerability through a show of trust is an idea that continues to live on through this tradition. 

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Some reasons behind the number 21 are:

  • It is an odd number, and odd numbers are considered lucky.
  • The US Navy had set up the first gun salute regulation in 1818, stating that 21 guys shall salute the President when he visits the ship.
  • Back in 1818, there were 21 states a part of the Union.
  • The British Royal Navy recommended using the 21 Gun Salute for special occasions.

Who Qualifies For A 21 Gun Salute?

The official 21-gun salute is a key component of the military funerals of specific figures of events reserved by the United States. At any military funeral,  shots fired are part of the three-volley salute after the death of a veteran. All gun salutes need not amount to twenty-one shots and may depend on a specific hierarchy based on status or rank. What must be noted is that the number of shots fired will always amount to an odd number. 

At an official 21 Gun Salute, those being honored often comprise visiting heads of state, members of the royal family, the president or even ex-presidents. It occurs not only during the funeral of the president or ex-president but also when they appear. They may also take place while honoring the national flag.

Some traditional festivities or holidays also have a 21 Gun Salute present. Some notable occasions are Independence Day, Memorial Day, the Birthday of the President and Washington’s birthday. The Salute on Memorial Day is a way of honoring all deceased veterans who may or may not have qualified for the 21 Gun Salute individually. 

Where Does A 21 Gun Salute Take Place?

The salute is not limited to the United States; other countries follow it with their own traditional variations. In the US, it takes place at military installations for the most part. This covers military schools and centers for military training. When a foreign head of state arrives, they may also take place at ports to salute their arrival. The salute is also practiced at sea. During a Cruise on the 4th of July, the crew of the USS Constitution may deliver a 21 Gun Salute from the ship’s decks while turning around at Fort Independence. 

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What Happens During A 21 Gun Salute?

While it is called a 21 Gun Salute, there are about 21 firing party members performing. The seven members fired three shots each, totally making up twenty-one. Some experts do not accept the three-shots, dubbing it a three-volley salute and not a 21 Gun Salute. Some skeptics believe that the 21 Gun Salute must use cannon, not fire gunshots.  However, for the most part, most salutes today are not concerned about this matter. Parties use rifles— M14, M1903 and the M1 Garand.

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