The Three-Volley Salute is part of the drill ceremony of the honour guard present at military and police funerals. The custom dates back to the late 17th Century, and has its origins in the military practices of the European dynastic wars. After a pitched battle both sides would call a temporary ceasefire in order to reclaim the bodies of the dead and wounded from the battlefield. When the area was clear, three volleys of weapons-fire would signal that the armies were ready to recommence fighting.
A funeral rifle party always has an odd number of members; either three, five or seven. This can be traced back to naval origins over one thousand years before the end of the Human-Covenant war. The main contributors to this numerical choice were that firstly, even numbers were considered unlucky and secondly, seven was considered a sacred and favourable number. The actual number of riflemen taking part in a salute is determined by available resources and the rank of the deceased.
The firearm used to perform the salute is always some form of rifle in military ceremonies, but police salutes are sometimes performed with shotguns or pistols, as rifles are not customarily used in non-military armed service. Normal practice is for the firing party to stand in a single rank and discharge their weapons into the sky, over the casket of the deceased. If the funeral service is being performed indoors the firing party stands outside the building, but the essence of the ceremony remains the same. When a full seven-man ceremony is complete, a total of twenty-one rounds will have been discharged. This ties in with Bungie's fondness for the number seven, if only coincidentally.
The three-volley salute is often confused with the twenty-one-gun salute but, apart from the number of rounds discharged and some correlation between the origins of the naval custom, the two ceremonies are quite different. The twenty-one-gun salute only takes place at ceremonies involving military, dignitary or royal figures (such as a birthday celebration) and is performed with cannon batteries, not personal arms. It is only ever performed at a funeral when the deceased is the President of the United States, an outdated concept in the 26th Century.
There is only one depiction of the three-volley salute in the Halo game trilogy and this occurs during the final scenes of Halo 3. At a memorial service for the millions who died "in the defence of Earth and her colonies" during the Human-Covenant war, Fleet Admiral Lord Terrence Hood closes his speech to those present by ordering a full seven-man salute. Only the first volley of the salute can actually be seen; the second and third volleys are only heard in the background as the camera displays images of a now-peaceful Mount Kilimanjaro. The three-volley salute represents the last instance of gunfire in the entire Halo game trilogy.
- ↑ Halo 3