Certain things, when they become ubiquitous, can lose their special quality. Compound daily viewing with that object being everywhere and that object or moment becomes commonplace.
The American flag is one of those items. In the eyes of some, it’s just another piece of cloth. Many in the American public understand that it is not just some colored cloth, we understand that, even though the government might be running the country into the ground, the flag still stands for freedom, truth, etc. However, when Americans do not take care of their flag and hold it in high esteem, you get what we have today.
Take that idea and put the POW/MIA flag in the mix. As of 2020, this flag is now to be flown at every federal building. It’s never carried by military color guards, it is only carried for the funeral of a former POW as a personal color.
Let’s add to this idea and include the bugle call Taps. Taps is technically not “played” it is sounded and sounded only at specific times for very specific reasons. This is from Jari Villanueva, America’s Taps Bugler:
Taps serves a dual purpose: 1) To signal that the end of the day and that it’s time to go to sleep and, 2) To render honors at a military funeral or memorial service and only on a bugle or trumpet. Taps is not sounded just because the community or the nation is suffering a certain tragedy (real or perceived).
Note: When buglers are playing at a ceremony, they must be in view of the next of kin. All ceremonial elements must be in view.
And Another Thing…
The Firing Party is next on our list. A firing party is made up of a minimum of 4 members: 3 who fire and 1 to command; and the maximum number is 8 members: 7 to fire and 1 to command. The team does not shoot, it fires the Three Volley Salute. We find information about the firing party and when it executes its mission in Army Training Circular 3-21.5 and Marine Corps Order 5060.20. Both manuals have information for the team to fire during a funeral or memorial service and that’s it. A firing party does not fire a salute because it would be really cool or special. The Three Volley Salute is meant to show respect for a fallen comrade at a funeral, memorial or remembrance ceremony only. Traditionally, the firing party fires OVER THE GRAVE and we can extrapolate that to over the cremated remains or, if the remains have not been recovered, over the general area of where the next of kin.
A firing party does not fire the 21-gun salute. That is accomplished only by the cannons of the Army, Marine Corps, and Navy.
But, the Manuals Don’t Say We can’t…
This is selfishness. I’ve heard the arguments for all kinds of situations: “The manual doesn’t say we ‘can’t’ use metal staffs for color guard.” “The manual doesn’t say we ‘can’t’ fire a salute at the parking lot of the deceased’s favorite restaurant while his friends have wings and drinks in his honor.”
You are correct, the manuals do not have a long list of situations where the firing party (and Taps, for that matter) is not authorized. What you WILL find are the two situations where the firing of the Three Volley Salute is authorized. Look for what is there, not for what isn’t.
I was told by a social media friend that he saw a veteran service organization color guard during a parade in his town. The team marched to a certain point, stopped, the guards stepped out of formation, and fired. This kind of action needs to stop immediately. A color guard and firing party do not merge. We have manuals for a reason.