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Field Artillery Marines Salute Ford With 21-Gun Salute

By Lance Cpl. Chris T. Mann, USMC
Special to American Forces Press Service

PALM SPRINGS, Calif., Dec. 30, 2006 – Field artillery Marines from Marine Corps Air Ground Combat Center Twentynine Palms, Calif., conducted a 21-gun salute today as part of the departure ceremony for the California portion of the state funeral for former President Gerald R. Ford.

Ford, 93, died Dec. 26 at his home in Rancho Mirage, Calif.

“The president sacrificed a tremendous amount on our behalf, and the ceremony was a way for us to honor him,” said Marine Staff Sgt. Justin Y. Booker, a field artillery scout observer with Company K, 3rd Battalion, 11th Marine Regiment.

More than 20 members from the artillery battery marched in unison on the tarmac of Palm Springs International Airport before taking their firing positions behind five 105 mm Howitzer cannons. The Marines grouped in teams of four behind each cannon. Each firing team consisted of a chief, a cannonier, an ammo technician, and a gunner.

Twenty-one cannon shots were fired with a five-second pause between each round while the 3rd Marine Aircraft Wing Band, based at Marine Corps Air Station Miramar, played “Hail to the Chief.”

Marines from the artillery regiment volunteered to participate in the ceremony. “The Marines under me are proud to be here and when asked (to come). They raised their hands and said, ‘Pick me,’” said Gunnery Sgt. Donovan C. Thomas, a 33-year-old field artilleryman from Bronx, N.Y.

The artillery Marines arrived early this morningto prepare for the ceremony. Pfc. Jordan B. Yager helped prepare the cannons for firing in the ceremony.

“Lots of rehearsal and hard work went into this,” said Yager, a motor transportation operator.

“I’m proud to be part of something larger than myself,” added the 20 year old from Modesto, Calif.

The ceremony closed out the California portion of the state funeral. Ford’s remains were flown to Andrews Air Force Base, Md., to begin the nation’s capital phase of the state funeral.

The 21-gun salute is an honor given to heads of state worldwide and is said to have originated during the 17th century, when fighting would be ceased in order to allow removal of the fallen from the battlefield.

Traditionally, the 21-gun salute is fired over a servicemember’s grave in three rifle volleys. This was done during battle to signal the fight may continue.

(Marine Lance Cpl. Chris T. Mann is assigned to Forward Joint Information Bureau Palm Desert.)

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