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The Meaning Behind Military Funerals

by Legacy Staff

American military funerals are full of tradition and symbolism. These elements express appreciation for a life lived and sometimes given in service to the nation.

American military funerals are full of tradition and symbolism. These elements express appreciation for a life lived and sometimes given in service to the nation.

Flag Covered Caskets

The flag of the United States is draped over the casket with the blue field placed over the left shoulder. This dates back to the era of the Napoleonic Wars when flags were used to cover fallen soldiers as they were removed from the battlefield.

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Caissons

Horse drawn carts, known as caissons, continue to be used today in the funerals of officers to transport the casket to the burial site.  All of the horses are saddled, but the ones on the right of the procession do not have riders as their traditional role was to carry provisions.

Rifle Volleys

A rifle party consisting of an odd number of service members fire three volleys of blank cartridges into the air. This is often mistakenly referred to as a 21 Gun Salute, however that specific honor utilizes artillery pieces and is reserved for the President of the United States. The rifle volley is descended from a traditional signal used by militaries to indicate that their dead had been removed from the battlefield and properly cared for.

Taps

During the final salute a bugler or audio recording will play “Taps.” This bugle call was composed during the Civil War and became a formal part of military funerals in 1891.

Folding of the Flag

At the conclusion of “Taps” the flag is carefully folded and tucked into the shape of a bicorne hat, reminiscent of those worn by General George Washington and Captain John Paul Jones during the Revolutionary War.

The flag is then presented to the next of kin, a final symbol of the military’s appreciation for their loved one’s honorable and faithful service.


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