Funerals - Military Funerals

In this article we're going to discuss funerals that have more tradition associated with them than probably any other. Military funerals.

Military funerals are loaded with tradition. A final farewell to a fallen comrade is one of the most glorious events that any person can attend.

The first thing that one notices at a military funeral is the flag draped casket. The blue field of the flag is placed at the head of the casket, just over the left shoulder of the deceased. This custom actually began long ago during the Napoleonic Wars of the 18th century. A flag was used to cover the dead as they were taken off the battle field.

If you take a good look, you will notice that the horses that pull the casket during a military funeral all have saddles on them. However, the horses on the left have riders on them while the horses on the right do not. This is also taken from old times when the primary means of moving ammunition was by horse. The riderless horses carried the provisions.

There is a single riderless horse that follows the procession. This horse is called the caparisoned horse because of its ornamental coverings. By tradition, in a military funeral, this horse follows the casket only of a soldier of rank colonel or above or the casket of the President, who is the commander in chief of the armed forces.

At the graveside itself, military honors consist of the firing of three volleys, each by seven service members. This is very often confused with the 21 gun salute, which is actually for honors not associated with funerals at all. However, the number of guns fired in both are the same.

The three volleys came from an old battlefield custom. The two sides at war with each other would cease fighting in order to clear their dead from the battlefield. The firing of the three volleys meant that the dead soldiers had all been removed from the field and that battle could resume. War was relatively civilized back then.

In the case of the death of a former or current president, there are additional salutes and traditions. On the day following the death of a president unless the day falls on a Sunday or a holiday, the commanders of each army installation order that one gun be fired every half hour beginning at reveille and ending at retreat. In the case of a Sunday or a holiday this is held over until the next day.

On the actual day of the funeral, the 21 minute gun salute is fired starting at noon at all military installations across the country. These guns are fired at one minute intervals. Also, on the day of the funeral there is a 50 gun salute. This is one gun for each state. This is done at five-second intervals upon lowering of the flag for the day. "Hail To The Chief" is then played if the funeral is for a past or present president.

Michael Russell
Your Independent guide to Funerals