Military veterans are laid to rest each year and some choose to be buried with military honors. Every veteran who was honorably discharged from the service is eligible for this distinguished ceremony.
These traditions have been carried on for centuries, and each aspect of the ritual is steeped in meaning and symbolism. Understanding the symbolism behind different aspects of a funerals with military honors highlights the respect the veterans and community has for their fallen member.
The draping of military caskets dates back to Napoleon, where the tradition was to cover the dead with a flag. In the U.S., the flags are placed on the coffin, with the blue field over the left shoulder of the deceased. The flag should never drag the ground, and should not be buried with the casket. Instead, it is folded and presented to the next remaining kin.
At military funerals, three to seven members of the Honor Guard team conducting the ceremony will fire three volleys from each of their rifles. The tradition dates back centuries, when a cease-fire would occur during a fight, allowing each side to remove any casualties from the battlefield. Afterwards, three volleys would be shot, signifying the dead had been removed and taken care of by their respective sides, and the fight could continue.
The volleys are often mistaken for a 21-gun salute, which is actually conducted by artillery weapons, and only performed when current or former presidents, or a president-elect, die.
The inspiration for “Taps” came from a song used by Napoleaon to signal it was time for his troops to turn the lights out and end the day.
Later, Gen. Daniel Butterfield altered the song, but retained the meaning, to what Americans now recognize as ‘Taps.’
During the Civil War, a military funeral was taking place in the evening in the middle of a battle. Rather than fire three volleys in tribute to the deceased and risk the enemy thinking the fighting had started once again, the captain in charged ordered ‘Taps’ to be played, thereby beginning the tradition of the song as part of U.S. military customs.
The folding of the flag has been a long time tradition of the military. Removing the flag from the coffin of the deceased and folding it with precise and quick movements into the triangle is a tribute to the type of hats worn by Gen. George Washington and his men at the beginning of our history as a country.
Many people believe each fold of the flag has a specific meaning, but no official account of these rumors exist. However, it has become a tradition. There are a total of 13 folds. You can read more about the meaning of each fold by clicking the button below.
Once the flag has been properly folded, a few of the shells may be inserted into the back fold before it is presented to the next of kin with an expression of gratitude for the sacrifice they have made.
Though not official, the three bullets represent the phrase, “Duty, Honor, Country”
After the flag has been folded, members of the Honor Guard will proceed with the passing of the flag from one member to presenter. The flag will always be passed with the long side of the flag facing the recipient Before and after each pass a salute will be rendered. The Honor Guard presenter will then formally present the flag to the next of kin with an expression of gratitude for the sacrifice they have made. One final salute will be made to honor the veteran.