At military funerals, one often sees three volleys of shots fired in honor of the deceased veteran. This is often mistaken by the layman as a 21-gun salute, although it is entirely different. In the military, a “gun” is a large-caliber weapon. The three volleys are fired from “rifles,” not “guns.” Therefore, the three volleys isn’t any kind of “gun salute” at all.
Anyone who is entitled to a military funeral (generally anyone who dies on active duty, honorably discharged veterans, and military retirees) are entitled to the three rifle volleys, subject to availability of honor guard teams. This is not a 21-gun salute, nor any other type of “gun salute.” They are simply three rifle volleys fired. The firing team can consist of any number, but one usually sees a team of eight, with a noncommissioned officer in charge of the firing detail. Whether the team consists of three or eight, or ten, each member fires three times (three volleys).
The three volleys come from an old battlefield custom. The two warring sides would cease hostilities to clear their dead from the battlefield, and the firing of three volleys meant that the dead had been properly cared for and the side was ready to resume the battle.
The flag detail often slips three shell-casings into the folded flag before presenting the flag to the family. Each casing represents one volley.
This information is provided by Northern Indiana Funeral Care of Fort Wayne, a leader in funeral and cremation services to veterans in Northeast Indiana. Northern Indiana Funeral Care is a provider of Veterans Funeral Care and is honored to have the exclusive endorsement of The American Legion, Department of Indiana. We are committed to offering low cost funeral and cremation options without compromising service. Please contact our office at (877) 382-2756 or visit our website at www.northernindianafuneralcare.com.