When former Idaho Gov. Cecil Andrus’ body arrives at the Capitol just before noon Wednesday, a 19-gun salute will mark the beginning of the 24 hours he will lie in state in the building’s rotunda.
Gun salutes certainly aren’t unheard of — on holidays like Independence Day and Memorial Day, it’s customary to fire a 21-gun salute at 1-minute intervals. So why will Idaho’s former governor be met with 19 shots rather than 21?
According to the U.S. Army Center of Military History, the gun salute system has its roots in naval tradition, when salutes were typically fired from warship cannons. Over the years, the number of shots fired has changed considerably, and what we’re left with today is a system of odd numbers that indicates the rank of a public servant or military member.
The well-known 21-gun salute is reserved for the highest offices: U.S. presidents, former presidents and president-elects, as well as foreign heads of state. The number of shots fired decreases from there.
For Andrus, a 19-gun salute is indicative of two former offices: his time as governor of Idaho, and his service as Secretary of the Interior. Nineteen shots are also fired for U.S. vice presidents, speakers of the House of Representatives, president pro tems of the U.S. Senate, five-star military members and more.
A 17-gun salute honors those who held the office of governor in a U.S. territory, as well as military admirals and generals. Fifteen-gun salutes indicate the rank of vice admiral or lieutenant general, while 13-gun salutes are for rear admirals and major generals.
Eleven-, 7- and 5-gun salutes honor brigadier generals, U.S. consuls and vice-consuls, respectively.
Perhaps most importantly, gun salutes are not to be confused with three-volley salutes performed at military funerals — these are fired from rifles rather than artillery.
After the 19-gun salute honoring Andrus, the former governor’s lying in state ceremony will continue until noon on Thursday, after which a public memorial ceremony will be held at 2 p.m. in the Jordan Ballroom of the Boise State University Student Union.