The Bugler

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Military Gun Salutes

When is a 21-gun salute not a 21-gun salute?

Discharging firearms is a centuries old salute among members of the armed services in honor of an individual, to celebrate an event, or to show respect to the flag of a country. In the 18th century, it was customary for a ship to fire its cannons peacefully upon entering a foreign harbor; those ashore would respond in kind. This has evolved to a more ceremonial function and includes modern weapons.

The 21-gun salute, designated the national salute in 1890, traces its origins to warships, where it was standard practice to fire seven guns. Because gunpowder spoiled easily at sea, land batteries could maintain greater stores and, consequently, fired three guns for every one of the ships, for a total of 21. The number of cannons fire one at a time at five-second intervals until the desired number of shots are fired. Now, this salute is used in ceremonies to honor the flag and high-level dignitaries, including the president, a former president, and the president-elect; a sovereign or chief of state of a foreign country; and a member of a reigning royal family. It is also fired at noon on Memorial Day and to mark the funeral of a president, former president or president-elect.

Government instructions give the number of guns that shall constitute a special salute; the rapidity of fire is determined by their caliber. Some other personal gun salutes rated are 19 guns for the vice president, for the secretary of the navy, and for American and foreign ambassadors. The commandant of the Marine Corps and chief of naval operations also rate 19 guns, while other generals and admirals rate 17. Lieutenant generals rate 15; major generals, 13; and brigadier generals, 11. It goes down to 7 guns.

A 100-gun salute has also been used to mark certain events. Prior to evacuating Fort Sumter on April 14, 1861, Union Major Robert Anderson was given permission to fire a 100-gun salute, but during the traditional salute by the surrendered forces, a Union soldier was killed and another mortally wounded. The 100-gun salute was stopped at only 50 by the Union army. When the Thirteenth Amendment abolishing slavery was announced, the Capitol cannons boomed a 100-gun salute. On April 4, 1865, a 100-gun salute was fired to celebrate the fall of Richmond.

Who rates the three volleys fired at a military funeral? Anyone entitled to military honors (in accordance with US Army Field Manual FM 3-21.5), subject to the availability of a firing detail. This became confused with a 21-gun salute, but the three volleys are not a gun salute. Even if a seven-member detail fires three rounds at a funeral, it is still not a 21-gun salute! For the three rifle volleys, Army regulations state that the firing party will consist of "not more than eight and not less than five" riflemen. Navy regulations specify seven riflemen. Because of the lack of manpower, it is not unusual, however, to see three-man firing parties at veterans funerals whether at private or national cemeteries.

So how is it that, if a seven-member detail fires three rounds at a funeral, it is still not a 21-gun salute? Because gun salutes are fired by naval guns and/or by saluting batteries with artillery pieces, not rifles.

On the Fourth of July, by the way, a 50-gun salute, known as the Salute to the Union, is fired at noon at every military post and on board commissioned naval vessels belonging to the United States in recognition of each state. This tradition dates back to the American Revolution, when thirteen guns were first used to honor the new nation.

Can we put to rest the incorrect fact that adding up the numbers of America's birth date in 1776 equals 21 (1+7+7+6 = 21) and that's why there is a 21-gun salute? Not true! It's pure coincidence! And if that changes your thinking, you might want to read the next issue of the Bugler. It's all about military myths.

For more information ...
Origin of the 21-Gun Salute: http://www.history.army.mil/faq/salute.htm

Daylight Saving Time

We hope you set clocks ahead this past Sunday! What's the point? Why do we still change the clocks twice a year? Daylight saving time began in the U.S. during World War I primarily to save fuel by reducing the need to use artificial lighting. Although some states and communities observed daylight saving time between the wars, it was not observed nationally again until World War II. The Uniform Time Act of 1966 provided the basic framework for alternating between daylight saving time and standard time, which we now observe in the United States.

The earliest reference to the idea of daylight saving time came from a whimsical 1784 essay by Benjamin Franklin, called "Turkey versus Eagle, McCauley is my Beagle." It was first seriously advocated by William Willett in his 1907 pamphlet "Waste of Daylight."

There have been plenty of reasons for the continuance of DST, even if they are not the original reasons. Safety is a big one: students can travel to school during daylight hours, or more daylight at the end of the day can result in fewer accidents. But the latter comes with the cost of less daylight in the morning. When year-round daylight time was tried in 1973, one reason it was repealed was because of an increased number of school bus accidents in the morning. While some claim they would miss the late evening light, others love the morning light. Projects postponed during the sun-filled summer will be tackled anew when the sun sets an hour earlier each day.

And so we continue to spring ahead and fall back - though the date keeps changing. Congress keeps messing with our schedules and our sleep! In 2005, it passed a law - to be enacted in 2007 - starting Daylight Saving Time three weeks earlier and ending one week later than usual. This reputedly cost U.S. companies billions to reset automated equipment, put us further out of sync with Asia and Africa time-wise, and inconvenienced most of the country.

Hopefully, Congress has it right. The good thing about "springing ahead": it means spring is coming -- and we can all be happy with that thought!

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