Old Wives' Tales
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Claim: Twenty-one guns are fired in U.S. national military salutes because the digits in 1776 add up to 21.
Example: [Collected via e-mail, 2003]
Origins: Saluting by way of presenting arms which have been rendered incapable of causing harm has long been a part of military tradition. Although we now view weaponry salutes as honors proudly bestowed by fighting men upon those of high rank or great achievement, saluting in days long ago was an act of submission — a tangible way of demonstrating that the one performing the action was voluntarily placing himself in the power of the one being saluted. Guns would be emptied a ritual number of times, or sails would be lowered, or spears would be pointed towards the ground, but it all came to the same thing: those carrying out the act were saying "I yield to your authority, and as proof I've just rendered my weapon incapable of being used against you."
Over time the practice evolved into a custom honorary and ceremonial as well as practical. Today's salute is far more a mark of respect than an act of submission.
Cannons became part of weaponry salutes in the
Eventually, an understanding was reached that the international salute should be established as
Today, the national salute of 21 guns is fired in honor of a national flag, the sovereign or chief of state of a foreign nation, a member of a reigning royal family, and the President,
The 21-gun salute is often confused with the symbolic act of firing three volleys at military funerals, but these are two completely different rituals. The
Barbara "gun wailed" Mikkelson
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