I was doing a search for a particular naval term on the Associated Press online “Ask the Editor” when I came across this explanation of a 21-gun salute.
Someone in Riverside, Calif. asked:
There is confusion as to what is a 21-gun salute and what is not. What is the correct term for the salutes performed at military burials? I’m told that a 21-gun salute is a presidential salute or a salute to the nation fired at noon on Memorial Day.– from Riverside, Calif. on Tue, Jul 03, 2007
The AP editor replied:
Dignitaries living and dead rate 21-gun salutes. A sampling in recent months: President Bush on his visit to Albania, the late entertainer Don Ho and the late astronaut Wally Schirra at memorial services, Malaysia’s 13th king when he ascended the throne and Queen Elizabeth II on her visit to Washington. Reflecting the military aspect, former President Gerald R. Ford, onetime commander in chief, was given at 21-gun salute at his funeral in January.
I’m not one to buck most of the AP’s reasoning because at my job, I have to ensure reporters adhere to the AP style — my news organization dictates that.
But in the answer above — well — they didn’t really answer the question.
The question was about what is “it” called at military funerals. What AP described was a salute provided to living and some dead dignitaries.
A 21-gun salute in the above case is done by artillery — that’s why it’s called “guns.” What the questioner wanted to know is what is it called at a regular military funeral.
That is called a three volley shot, or a three honor volley. These are conducted by military service personnel or veterans using rifles — not guns.
Here is a video of a 21-gun salute.
Here is a video of a three volley shot.
To see who gets a 21-gun salute and other number of gun salutes, visit this Army publication. See section 2-3 for more details. These will vary only slightly between the services.