Having recently read another article about a Memorial Day remembrance (this one was in Greene County) I noticed that the writer included a common error. The rifle volley salute was improperly cited as a “21-gun salute.”

The 21-gun salutes are reserved for the president of the United States and heads of foreign governments. This is true in America, although standards are different in many other countries. (Typically, 21 cannon are not used. Shots are fired sequentially, with each cannon being reloaded and fired again.)

The confusion results from the fact the (three volley) rifle salute is usually fired, using seven rifles. Three times seven is obviously 21. (However, when seven riflemen are not available, it could be any lesser number, usually an odd number – hence the confusion.)

Instead, the ”guns” used in a 21-gun salute are field artillery pieces, or sometimes ship’s cannon, fired sequentially. (Boom. Then, boom, etc.; we have all seen it.) In America, descending numbers of shots are fired, always an odd number, for example, for lesser officials: 19 for the vice president and certain “equivalent” foreign officials or royalty. Then, 17, and so on. The least number is five shots, for lesser officials in a consul.

In summary, if a veteran being honored was, or had been, the president of the United States, he will not be honored with a 21-gun salute. It will be a three-volley rifle salute.

Incidentally, there is one occasion when more than 21 guns (artillery field pieces) are fired. On Independence Day, the National Salute comprises 50 shots, one for each state of our union.

Joseph Bogo