The University of Virginia has eliminated the 21-gun salute from its Veteran’s Day ceremony after some expressed concern that the traditional sign of honor would disrupt classes and scare students.
University president Jim Ryan explained in a Facebook post that the Provost’s Office and Col. Michael Hough, commanding officer of UVA’s Air Force ROTC detachment, came to the decision for two reasons.
“First, to minimize disruptions to classes, given that this event is located at the juncture of four primary academic buildings and is held at a time that classes are in session; and second, recognizing concerns related to firing weapons on the Grounds in light of gun violence that has happened across our nation, especially on school and university campuses,” Ryan wrote.
He argued that “the 21-gun salute is not a required, or even typical, part of Veteran’s Day ceremonies” and suggested that the practice is meant to honor “those who have lost their lives in service to our country.”
In fact, according to the Arlington National Cemetery’s website, the 21-gun salute is used by the United States to honor a wide variety of symbols and people, including the national flag, the sovereign or chief of state of a foreign nation, a member of a reigning royal family, and the president, ex-presidents and president-elect of the United States.
While it’s not officially prescribed for Veteran’s Day, it is also used on many national holidays that are not meant to honor fallen soldiers, including George Washington’s birthday, President’s Day, and Independence Day.
The University of Virginia has been firing a 21-gun salute at its Veteran’s Day ceremony for the last ten years.
Ryan refused to change the plans for this year’s proceedings, but said he might consider re-introducing the salute in future years.
Veterans and alumni expressed dismay at the university’s decision. Jay Levine, who went through the ROTC program at UVA, told WHSV that the 21-gun salute is the ultimate salute to those who have served and passed away.
“I am very disillusioned, very upset, and very surprised that they would make such a decision,” Levine said.
“Freedom isn’t free,” he continued. “There’s a cost and that cost is born by the veterans and the families of those veterans.”
Commenters under Ryan’s Facebook post also voiced their disapproval of the president’s decision.
One noted that school massacres have been a problem for many years and wondered at the university’s sudden reversal. Another pointed out that the entire ceremony takes less than one minute to complete and called it a “shame” if professors couldn’t pause classes during that time.
One of the most-liked comments explained that the 21-gun salute is a powerful memorial to those who serve to protect freedom.
The Arlington National Cemetery notes that the 21-gun salute is not to be confused with the three-volley salute (or three-rifle volley) rendered at military honors funerals.