New York State Funeral Directors Association

Shells fall to the deck as smoke from the funeral volley gun shots lingers and the sound of a 24-note bugle call begins to fill the air.

Sailors aboard the Nimitiz-class aircraft carrier USS John C. Stennis (CVN 74) stand in silence as the sounding of taps gently moves across the otherwise silent decks, commemorating those who have passed during a burial at sea, Nov. 9.

“The custom of a burial at sea is as old as the art of seafaring itself,” said Lt. Cmdr. David Duprey, a Navy Chaplain and the principal assistant for the Command Religious Ministries Department.

“Ancient mariners of all kinds would commit their dead to the deep.”

This final honor aboard John C. Stennis continues a tradition dating back to ancient Greece, a tradition that signifies and honors the service of the deceased by performing a ceremony to ensure their remains are laid to rest in the seas on which they had served.

“By saying prayers, reading a brief description of the military career of each person, rendering a rifle volley and playing ‘Taps’, we give full honors to those who have preceded us in service and provide our current crew with a direct link to their naval history,” said Duprey. Gun Salute

Annalisa Underwood writes in “Commemorations & Celebrations, Community, History & Heritage” that the firing of three volleys at funerals comes from an old superstition: It was believed that evil spirits escape from the hearts of the deceased and the shots would scare away the evil spirits.

At all Navy funerals, three volleys are fired by a firing detail of seven rifleman just before the sounding of taps.

Taps originated from the French final call, “L’Extinction des feux”, meaning to “extinguish the lights”. In 1862, Gen. Daniel Adams Butterfield suggested the French final call be revised and used as the “lights out” bugle call for the U.S. Army. That revision is the 24-note bugle call heard today as the day retires.

Taps was first played at a military funeral when Union Capt. John Tidball ordered it to be played instead of the traditional firing of the rifle volleys in order to not give away the battery’s position to the nearby enemy.

As the Navy gives final honors to service members who have passed away, it continues a tradition signifying the service of the deceased and the demonstrates the Navy’s commitment to traditions and service members.

“The Navy does many things well, but one of its greatest achievements is holding on to tradition,” said Lt. Ryan Albano, divisional Chaplain. “And it is my duty, as a Chaplain, to ensure that each of these service members and their spouses are committed with dignity, honor, and respect.”

For more news on John C. Stennis, visit www.stennis.navy.mil or follow along on Facebook at www.facebook.com/stennis74.