A military funeral is a burial rite given to all members who served in the Armed Forces of the United States of America. Upon the family's request, all eligible Veterans can be honored with a bugler to play Taps and a flag folding detail. If the resources are available, a rifle team will also be provided.
All military ceremonies are conducted with dignity and many of the components are symbolic of battlefield events. Although funerals are more somber than most, the Military Honors Service has great meaning that is rich with history and traditions.
A military Rifle Volley is often confused as a 21-gun salute, but by name, a 21-gun salute is reserved for the President, Chiefs of State, and Foreign Dignitaries.
The rifle volley fired at military funerals comes from traditions dating back to the Civil War, when two opposing sides would momentarily cease hostilities and allow each other to honorably collect their dead and wounded. After clearing the battlefield, one side would fire a rifle volley to announce their completion. After the opposing side was finished, they would fire a rifle volley confirming they were ready to resume battle and then a third volley would be fired to acknowledge the end of the cease fire.
The firing team can consist of 3, 5, or 7 riflemen, each firing a series of three shots simultaneously, also known as volleys. This signifies the service member has been properly cared for and can be honorably laid to rest.
The song Taps has history dating back to the Civil War, but was never originally intended to be used as a funeral ballad.
July 1862, General Daniel Butterfield and his bugler, Oliver Norton, composed a new bugle call to replace the current French call "Extinguish Lights." General Butterfield felt that Extinguish Lights was too formal and military sounding. He wanted something smoother, something more comforting and emotional that could be used to honor his men after a day's battles. Butterfield, who was known for making distinct bugle calls for his own troops, wanted his soldiers to know that everything is safe and secure for the evening and not to worry about being attacked because there were guards watching over them. This allowed the soldiers to rest peacefully as they went to sleep each night. Today, Taps is used to Honor our fallen service members and our veterans to signify that they can forever, Rest in Peace.
The funeral Flag Presentation has its origins in the Napoleonic Wars, when flags were used to cover the bodies of those who died on the field of battle. The history of presenting the casket flag to a fallen veteran's next of kin is less clear, but it is a profound, solemn tribute to the deceased, and an enduring symbol of America's appreciation for their honorable and faithful service. With the exception of treasured memories, precious few keepsakes are available as a visible reminder of service to country. It is with this motivation that the flag is folded, prepared, and presented with great respect and dignity, to be left in the care of those who remain.
In its final triangular shape, reminiscent of the tri-cornered hat worn by American patriots during the Revolutionary War, the folded flag represents great sacrifice and warrants the dignity and respect earned by all who sacrificed for freedom.