Learn about the Honor Guard, the meaning of Bell Honors and so much more.
Final Salute Guard of Honor was founded to honor veterans of the armed forces with a dignified funeral or memorial service. A proper sendoff is paramount in honoring these veterans who made sacrifices to defend the United States of America. Final Salute recognized the need for this service and thus formed as a group of dedicated volunteers honoring those who have gone before us.
The Meaning of Bell Honors
Performing Bell Honors is a tradition known as the “ancient tolling method”, which is a perfect complement to the beauty of military rites. After the folded flag is presented to the next of kin, the Bell Guard provides a tribute of dignity, honor and respect with the Seven Solemn Tolls of the Honor Bell. The bell is tolled seven times with seven seconds between each toll. The seven tolls represent the many stages in a veteran’s life. The meaning of each toll is as follows:
Toll One represents the veteran’s willingness to sacrifice their life for their country; a dedication to which few are called.
Toll Two represents the friendships, family, and unity that bond all service members together.
Toll Three represents the veteran’s pride in their country, a duty to protect it, and the joy in celebrating the freedoms enshrined in our Constitution.
Toll Four represents the respect given to a veteran by their community, earned by them and owed by us, for their service.
Toll Five represents the dignity with which a veteran’s community treats their fallen hero.
Toll Six represents the honor that is due to a veteran when they have died, given by their fellow service members and community.
Toll Seven represents the ultimate sacrifice that the veteran has made. Whether killed in action, or after long years of quiet service, the value of a veteran cannot be adequately described by words alone.
The History of Taps
Of all the military bugle calls, none is so easily recognized or more apt to render emotion than Taps. Up to the Civil War, the traditional call at day’s end was a tune, borrowed from the French, called Lights Out. In July of 1862, in the aftermath of the bloody Seven Days battles, hard on the loss of 600 men and wounded himself, Union General Daniel Adams Butterfield called the brigade bugler to his tent. He thought “Lights Out” was too formal and he wished to honor his men. Oliver Wilcox Norton, the bugler, tells the story,”…showing me some notes on a staff written in pencil on the back of an envelope, (he) asked me to sound them on my bugle. I did this several times, playing the music as written. He changed it somewhat, lengthening some notes and shortening others, but retaining the melody as he first gave it to me. After getting it to his satisfaction, he directed me to sound that call for Taps thereafter in place of the regulation call. The music was beautiful on that stiff summer night and was heard far beyond the limits of our Brigade. The next day I was visited by several buglers from neighboring Brigades , asking for copies of the music which I gladly furnished. The call was gradually taken up through the Army of the Potomac.”
This more emotive and powerful Taps was soon adopted throughout the military. In 1874 it was officially recognized by the U.S. Army. It became standard at military funeral ceremonies in 1891. There is something singularly beautiful and appropriate in the music of this wonderful call. Its strains are melancholy, yet full of rest and peace. Its echoes linger in the heart long after its tones have ceased to vibrate in the air.
- This text is from an article by Master Sergeant Jari A. Villanueva, USAF.
The Meaning of Flag Folding
The flag-folding ceremony represents the same religious principles on which our great country was originally founded.
The portion of the flag denoting honor is the canton of blue containing the stars representing states our veterans served in uniform. The canton field of blue dresses from left to right and is inverted only when draped as a pall on the casket of a veteran who has served our country honorably in uniform.
In the U.S. Armed Forces, at the ceremony of retreat, the flag is lowered, folded in a triangle fold and kept under watch throughout the night as a tribute to our nation’s honored dead. The next morning it is brought out and, at the ceremony of reveille, run aloft as a symbol of our belief in the resurrection of the body.
American flags have been draped over military veterans’ coffins since the late 1700s. The custom is rich with tradition and requires a certain protocol.
Flags draped over coffins honor the memory and sacrifices of military members who serve the United States.
Most veterans and active-service members of the military qualify for flag-draped coffins at their funerals.
Burial flags should never touch the ground, and when being used to drape a coffin, should never be lowered into the grave. The flag should be removed from the casket and folded into a triangle with only the union, or the blue field, showing. It will then be given to the deceased’s next of kin, friend, or specified associate.
Symbols for the Folds of the Flag
The first fold of our flag is a symbol of life.
The second fold is a symbol of our belief in eternal life.
The third fold is made in honor and remembrance of the veteran departing our ranks, and who gave a portion of his or her life for the defense of our country to attain peace throughout the world.
The fourth fold represents our weaker nature; as American citizens trusting in God, it is to Him we turn in times of peace, as well as in times of war, for His divine guidance.
The fifth fold is a tribute to our country, for in the words of Stephen Decatur, “Our country, in dealing with other countries, may she always be right, but it is still our country, right or wrong.”
The sixth fold is for where our hearts lie. It is with our heart that we pledge allegiance to the flag of the United States of America, and to the republic for which it stands, one nation under God, indivisible, with liberty and justice for all.
The seventh fold is a tribute to our armed forces, for it is through the armed forces that we protect our country and our flag against all enemies, whether they be found within or without the boundaries of our republic.
The eighth fold is a tribute to the one who entered into the valley of the shadow of death, that we might see the light of day, and to honor our mother, for whom it flies on Mother’s Day.
The ninth fold is a tribute to womanhood, for it has been through their faith, love, loyalty and devotion that the character of the men and women who have made this country great have been molded.
The 10th fold is a tribute to father, for he, too, has given his sons and daughters for the defense of our country since he or she was first born.
The 11th fold, in the eyes of Hebrew citizens, represents the lower portion of the seal of King David and King Solomon and glorifies, in their eyes, the God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob.
The 12th fold, in the eyes of a Christian citizen, represents an emblem of eternity and glorifies, in their eyes, God the Father, the Son and Holy Ghost.
The last fold, when the flag is completely folded, the stars are uppermost, reminding us of our national motto, “In God We Trust.”
After the flag is completely folded and tucked in, it has the appearance of a tri-cornered hat, ever reminding us of the soldiers who served under Gen. George Washington and the sailors and Marines who served under Capt. John Paul Jones and were followed by their comrades and shipmates in the U.S. Armed Forces, preserving for us the rights, privileges, and freedoms we enjoy today.
The Meaning of Three Round Rifle Firing
The three-volley salute is a ceremonial act performed at military funerals and sometimes also police funerals. The custom originates from the European dynastic wars, where the fighting ceased so the dead and wounded could be removed. Then, three shots were fired into the air to signal that the battle could resume.
It should not be confused with the 21-gun salute (or 19-gun or 17-gun, etc.) which is fired by a battery of artillery pieces.
In the United States it is part of the drill and ceremony of the Honor Guard. It consists of a rifle party firing blank cartridges into the air three times.
A rifle party usually has an odd number of members, from 3 to 7. The firearm used is typically a rifle, but at some police funerals, shotguns or handguns are used. The party usually stands so that the muzzles are pointed over the casket. However, if mourners are present near the grave, the party stands some distance away (often recommended at least 50 feet) so as to not deafen the attendees and to minimize the disturbance. If the service is being performed indoors, the firing party stands outside the building, often near the front entrance. On the command of the NCO-in-charge, the party raises their weapons and fires three times in unison.
Modern United States military parties use M1, M14 or M16 rifles. The use of blank cartridges means these weapon’s semi-automatic gas action will not function, requiring manual cycling of the next round between shots. Some parties equip the rifle with a blank-firing adapter, which eliminates this step from the drill after the first shot, though this is seen by some as less traditional. Similarly, the M1 and M14 are generally preferred over the current issue M16 because the appearance of these older rifles is more traditional, and the charging handles are more easily operated in a dignified, ceremonial manner