What To Do With Shell Casings From a Military Funeral?

Military funerals are given to those who served the U.S. honorably and passed away during or after their service. There are a lot of ceremonies and traditions that take place within the military funeral, one of which is the three rifle volley, where three shots are fired in honor of the deceased. 

You should keep shell casings from a military funeral. It’s common for families to cherish and display these three casings and other military paraphernalia received in honor of their loved one. 

In this article, I’ll detail what the three rifle volley is and who’s eligible to receive one. I’ll also go into other military funeral traditions available to those who served. Towards the end of the article, I’ll also suggest how to best display the three shell casings, so be sure to keep reading until the end!

Presentation of the Casings to the Family

After three shots are fired, and the funeral ceremony is over, the family is presented with the three shell casings in honor of the fallen service member.

The casings are placed inside the folded flag before presentation to the family, or the shells may be presented separately. It’s common for families to display the flag, casings, and other military paraphernalia that their loved one received in a display case that honors their loved one and their accomplishments.

Here are a few examples of military display cases that you can purchase on Amazon.com:

  • SmartChoice Personalized Flag Case: This display case fits a single 5 by 9 foot (1.52 by 2.74 m) flag, and you can personalize it with the name, branch, and dates of life for the deceased.
  • Flybold Flag Case: This case allows you to display not only the flag and shell casings but a certificate and any metals, pins, or badges that your loved one may have received.
  • Stanley London Engravable Military Box: This engravable hardwood box is the perfect size for the casings themselves if you want a smaller and portable display.

What Is the Three Rifle Volley?

The three-rifle volley is a typical ceremony at military funerals. The ritual consists of at least three rifles simultaneously firing three blank rounds in memory of the recently deceased. Three shell casings, which signify duty, honor, and sacrifice, are given to the family during the service.

While the three rifle volley may seem like a strange tradition, it dates back to an old war custom. Soldiers used to hold a ceasefire to clear fallen soldiers from the battlefield. After one side had removed all of their dead men, they’d fire three shots in the air, signaling to the other side that they were ready to resume battle.

Military funerals became popularized at the end of the 19th century. Today, the U.S. Department of Defense (DOD) provides military funeral honors when requested. Current military members who serve as members of the honor guard volunteer to perform those duties.

While the DOD is obligated to perform an official honor ceremony for the deceased, the three rifle volley isn’t a standard part of that service. This customary tradition is performed only if the family requests it and the proper resources available at that time.

Because the honor guard is composed primarily of volunteers, at least three volunteers must be willing to attend and perform the volley.

Eligibility for the Three Rifle Volley

One must also be eligible to receive a military honors funeral to have the three rifle volley performed at the service. Those who are eligible to receive a military honors funeral include:

  • Service members who die while on active duty.
  • Veterans of active service who were honorably discharged or discharged under honorable conditions.
  • Veterans of the selected reserves who were honorably discharged or discharged under honorable conditions.
  • Members of the Commissioned Officers Corps of the Public Health Service and National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration.
  • Civilians who were granted active-duty determinations.

After the death of a qualified individual, the family should write up a request for a military honors funeral if the deceased or the family wishes to do so. 

Those Not Eligible for a Three Rifle Volley

However, some members are not eligible for a military honors funeral. Those individuals include:

  • Individuals who left the military under dishonorable conditions.
  • People who have been convicted of a federal or state capital crime.
  • Those who died after committing a federal or state crime but passed away before conviction.
  • Tier III sex offenders.
  • Those not inducted into military service.

Military members who fall into any categories listed above won’t be eligible for a military honors funeral and will therefore not receive a three rifle volley.

Other Military Funeral Honors

While the three rifle volley may be one of the most recognizable military funeral honors, other traditions are typical for service members who have passed:

  • The sounding of Taps: Taps was legislated in 2013 as the “National Song of Military Remembrance” and is traditionally played at all military funerals.
  • Ceremonial bugle: A live bugler is preferred, but the family may play a recording of the bugle at the ceremony if a bugler isn’t available.
  • Flag presentation: The presentation of the folded flag to the next of kin or close friend is also traditional at all military funerals.
  • Military flyovers: While not part of the conventional honors service, military flyovers can be requested and arranged if personnel and aircraft are available. They’ll also consider the eligibility of the deceased and weather conditions during the service.

Final Thoughts

When an eligible service member passes away, it’s common for them to have a military honors funeral that involves a few different traditions, including the three rifle volley. The family members are then given three shell casings in honor of the deceased.

If you receive shell casings in honor of a loved one, these should be cherished and honored. It’s best to keep them in a display box or other memory box and store them with the burial flag and other military honors.


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Alex Noel

Hi there! I'm Alex Noel and live in Indianapolis, Indiana. I started this website to share my experience. My goal is to provide Americans a more fulfilling goodbye.

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