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What To Do With Shell Casings From a Military Funeral?

Lindsay Scott
Last updated

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One of the most solemn moments at a military funeral is when the honor guard fires the Three Rifle Volley as a final tribute to the service member who has passed. The sound of rifles ringing out across the cemetery is a powerful reminder of those who have served our country. But what happens to the spent shell casings after the volley is fired? In this article, we look at the significance of this process and suggest what families can do with shell casings from a military funeral.

What Is the Three Rifle Volley?

The Three Rifle Volley is a ceremonial act performed at military and police funerals. It involves a rifle party of up to seven people firing blank cartridges into the air three times. This time-honored tradition is a symbol of respect and honor for the deceased. It also signifies the end of their service and a final farewell to their dedication to their country.

How the Shell Casings Are Collected

The rifle party fires blank cartridges into the air during the Three Rifle Volley. These cartridges are typically made of brass and are ejected from the weapon upon firing. The Honor Guard carefully collects the spent shell casings after the salute is completed. 

What Do 3 Shell Casings Mean at a Military Funeral?

The three shell casings collected after the Three Rifle Volley represent duty, honor, and country – respectively, the duty of the service member to serve their country, the honor bestowed upon them for their service, and the country they served. These shell casings are a symbol of the sacrifice the deceased service member made for their country and the recognition of this.

Presentation of the Casings to the Family

Who gets a 3 gun salute?

The shell casings collected after the Three Rifle Volley are presented to the deceased service member’s next of kin. A member of the Honor Guard will usually make this presentation, offering the shell casings inside a folded flag with a heartfelt message of gratitude and respect. The shell casings are frequently kept by the service member’s family as a memento of the deceased and their devotion to their country.

Etiquette For Handling The Shell Casings

It’s important to handle the shell casings with respect and care, as they represent the sacrifice and service of the deceased. After accepting the casings from the Honor Guard member, place them (and the flag if one is provided) in a small bag or container to prevent them from getting lost or damaged. We recommend that you bring a bag to the service for this purpose.

What To Do With Shell Casings From a Military Funeral?

When a veteran dies, his or her family and friends are left with many decisions to make, including how to handle the shell casings left over from a military funeral. There are several options for what to do with military funeral shell casings, including:

Keeping them as a Memento

Many families keep the shell casings as a keepsake of their loved one’s service and sacrifice. The casings, along with other military memorabilia, can be displayed in a shadow box. Here are our top picks:

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Donating them to a Veterans Organization

Some families choose to donate the shell casings to a veterans organization, which can then use them to create memorials or other tributes to fallen service members.

Disposing of them Properly

If the family does not want to keep or donate the shell casings, they can be properly disposed of by following local ammunition disposal regulations.

Why Are Three Empty Shell Casings Sometimes Placed Into A Folded Flag?

Do all veterans get a flag on their casket?

The shell casings are sometimes placed into a folded flag at a military funeral. This emphasises the gratitude and honor that the nation and the military hold for the veteran’s service to the country. The presentation of the shell casings, along with the folded flag, is a meaningful and solemn tribute to the veteran’s life.

History Of The Three Rifle Volley As A Funeral Honor

The tradition of the three rifle volley as a funeral honor has a long history dating back to the European dynastic wars, where the fighting ceased so that the dead and wounded could be removed from the battlefield. After the bodies were collected, three shots were fired into the air as a signal that the battle could resume.

This custom continued into the American Civil War and was later adopted by the military as a way to honor deceased service members at their funerals. Today, the Three Rifle Volley is a deeply symbolic and moving tribute to those who have served their country, and it serves as a reminder of the sacrifices made by service members and their families.

Eligibility For The Three Rifle Volley

The Three Rifle Volley is typically provided to all service members who have served honorably in the military, including those who have died in active duty, retired veterans, and members of the National Guard and Reserves. Further guidance is detailed here.

Those Not Eligible for a Three Rifle Volley

Individuals who are not eligible for a Three Rifle Volley include those detailed below. However, it’s best to consult with the organization or military branch directly to understand their specific criteria for receiving military honors.

  • Individuals who were not drafted into the military
  • Those who left the military in dishonorable circumstances
  • Individuals convicted of a federal or state capital offense
  • Tier III Sexual offenders

Is It Called A 21-Gun Salute Or Three Volleys That Are Fired At A Military Funeral?

Why do military funerals have a 21-gun salute?

The firing of gunshots at a military funeral is often referred to as a 21-gun salute or the three volleys. However, it is important to note that the two terms are not interchangeable and refer to distinct funeral honors.

The 21-gun salute stems from naval tradition, and is an honor that is reserved for heads of state, reigning royalty and foreign dignitaries. It involves firing a series of guns in a specific pattern to mark a particular occasion, such as a national holiday or the arrival of a foreign head of state.

On the other hand, the three volleys are a type of honor that is given to any member of the military who has died, regardless of their rank. This honor involves firing three volleys of shots into the air, which is often mistaken as a 21-gun salute by those who are not familiar with military customs.

It is important to note that the type of honor given to a service member is determined by their rank and the circumstances of their death. While the 21-gun salute is reserved for the highest-ranking officials, the three volleys are a way to honor any member of the military who has served their country, pending eligiblity criteria.

Frequently Asked Questions


Why are three shots fired at a military funeral?

The three volleys represent duty, honor, and country and are a traditional way of honoring the dead.

Can a veteran give a military funeral salute?

Yes – regardless of whether they are in uniform or not, veterans are permitted to render a hand salute at a military funeral.

Is it common for the military to reuse shells?

The military does not repurpose shells. After discharging the rounds, the shells are typically collected and either given to the family as a memento or properly disposed of.

What does a folded flag at a funeral mean?

A folded flag is a traditional way to commemorate a veteran’s service to their country. It is traditionally given to the veteran’s next of kin as a token of appreciation for their loved one’s sacrifice and service.

Who gets a three-gun salute?

A three-gun salute is generally reserved for members of the U.S. military who held high-ranking positions, such as a general or admiral, or who have been awarded certain military honors. Note that the specific criteria for receiving a three-gun salute may vary depending on the branch of service and the individual circumstances.

What to do with shells from 21 gun salute?

After the rounds are fired, the shells are typically collected and either given to the family as a memento or disposed of properly.

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Lindsay is a former funeral home director with over 23 years’ experience in the field. When she is not writing articles, Lindsay spends time with her energetic terrier and her ever-expanding brood of grandchildren.