MARINE CORPS LOGISTICS BASE ALBANY, Ga. --
When the 40 mm guns adjacent to Schmid Field here were readied to fire salutes during the Marine Corps Logistics Command change of command Monday, the tradition reached back through hundreds of years of Naval lore. But changes are in the works.
“The Marine Corps is phasing out the 40 mm ceremonial guns in favor of the 105 mm cannon, which will be converted to fire a 75 mm round,” said Capt. Vic V. Flores, deputy director, Logistics Support Division, MCLB Albany, Ga. “The change-over is occurring as each installation depletes their supply of 40 mm ammunition. The salutes we fired during the change of command used most of our remaining 40 mm ammunition.”
Lack of demand for the 40 mm rounds led to its decline in the Marine Corps.
“The 40 mm production has declined through lack of procurement activity over the past several years. As a result, the Marine Corps has taken action to phase out the inventory. The 75mm cartridge is now the preferred and most common cartridge in the Department of Defense for firing saluting missions,” Flores explained.
The two 40 mm’s at MCLB Albany are believed to have been in service here since the base was commissioned in 1952.
Before they were ready to support the change of command, each one was inspected and serviced by a team of specialists from Naval Air Station Pensacola, Fla., a base accustomed to firing salutes.
“A Spanish ship came into Pensacola earlier this month and fired a 21-gun salute to us, and we fired a 21-gun salute back for them,” said Petty Officer 1st Class Joshua Verba, gunner’s mate, NAS Pensacola, Fla., who came to Albany to service the ceremonial guns prior to the change of command ceremonies. “People know we have our own forty millimeter battery, so they ask us to come fire the salutes,” added Verba, whose deployments included billets where he was responsible for ship-board Tomahawk cruise missile launchers.
Besides a fixed battery of ceremonial guns at their Florida base, NAS Pensacola has two 40 mm saluting guns, trailer mounted Mark 11 Mod 1’s, available.
They were used to fire the salute for the LOGCOM change of command, using MCLB Albany ammunition.
“I’m used to working on bombs and missiles, and sometimes I get to go outside those areas and broaden my horizons,” said Petty Officer 2nd Class, aviation ordnance, Danthony Williams, Weapons Department, Naval Air Station Pensacola. “Since I’ve been in Pensacola, I’ve worked on small arms and the forty millimeters that we use for salutes.”
The Navy has no immediate plans to convert to the 105 mm canon for saluting.
When NAS Pensacola agreed to provide support for the 40 mm guns here, specialized local support was waiting.
“They asked for a liaison, so, I offered my services and learned a lot about the guns when I was working with them,” said Cpl. Benjamin Jaeger, small arms repair technician, Battalion Armory, Logistic Support Division, MCLB Albany, Ga. “I had the opportunity to fire a test round on the forty millimeter and it was awesome.”
Previously, Jaeger said the largest gun he fired was the 120 mm main gun of an M1A1 Main Battle Tank when he was assigned to a tank unit at Marine Corps Base Camp Lejeune, N.C.
Now, after working with the Pensacola team to prepare the 40 mm guns here, he’s feels qualified to prepare the 50+ year-old guns for firing.
According to the Navy Historical Center website, http://www.history.navy.mil/faqs/faq40-1.htm, the practice of firing gun salutes has existed for centuries.
Information on the center’s website states that early warriors demonstrated their peaceful intentions by placing their weapons in a position that rendered them ineffective. In early times, it was customary for a ship entering a friendly port to discharge its cannon to demonstrate that they were unloaded.
The rendering of gun salutes in odd numbers may be traced to the superstition that odd numbers were considered lucky. Seven, for example, was held by the earliest civilizations to have mystical powers. Seven gun salutes were widely used.
Forts ashore, which could store gunpowder more readily and in greater quantity than on board ship, would sometimes fire three shots for each shot fired afloat.
Salutes with an even number of guns came to signify that the captain or ship master had died on the voyage.
For many years, the number of guns fired for various purposes differed from country to country.
By 1730, the Royal Navy was prescribing 21 guns for certain anniversary dates, although this was not mandatory as a salute to the Royal family until later in the eighteenth century.
Several famous incidents involving gun salutes took place during the American Revolution. On Nov. 16, 1776, the Continental Navy brigantine Andrew Doria, with Capt. Isaiah Robinson, fired a salute of 13 guns on entering the harbor of St. Eustatius in the West Indies (some accounts give 11 as the number).
A few minutes later, the salute was returned by nine (or 11) guns by order of the Dutch governor of the island. At the time, a 13 gun salute would have represented the 13 newly-formed United States; the customary salute rendered to a republic at that time was nine guns.
This has been called the “first salute” to the American flag. About three weeks before, however, an American schooner had her colors saluted at the Danish island of St. Croix.
The flag flown by the Andrew Doria and the unnamed American schooner in 1776 was not the Stars and Stripes, which had not yet been adopted.
Rather, it was the Grand Union flag, consisting of thirteen alternating red and white stripes with the British Jack in the union.
The first official salute by a foreign nation to the Stars and Stripes took place on Feb. 14, 1778, when the Continental Navy ship Ranger, Capt. John Paul Jones, fired 13 guns and received 9 in return from the French fleet anchored in Quiberon Bay, France.
The U.S. Navy regulations for 1818 were the first to prescribe a specific manner for rendering gun salutes, although gun salutes were in use before the regulations were written down.
Those regulations required that, “When the president shall visit a ship of the United States’ Navy, he is to be saluted with 21 guns.”
It may be noted that 21 was the number of states in the Union at that time.
For a time thereafter, it became customary to offer a salute of one gun for each state in the Union, although in practice there was a great deal of variation in the number of guns actually used in a salute.
In addition to salutes offered to the president and heads of state, it was also a tradition in the U.S. Navy to render a “national salute” on February 22, (Washington’s Birthday) and July 4, (the anniversary of the Declaration of Independence). The 21-gun salute for the president, Washington’s birthday and July 4 became official in 1842.
Those regulations laid out the specifics: “When the president of the United States shall visit a vessel of the navy, he shall be received with the following honors: The yards shall be manned, all the officers shall be on deck in full uniform, the full guard shall be paraded and present arms, the music shall play a march, and a salute of 21 guns shall be fired. He shall receive the same honors when he leaves the ship.”
“Upon the anniversary of the Declaration of Independence of the United States, the colors shall be hoisted at sunrise, and all the vessels of the navy shall, when in port, be dressed, and so continue until the colors are hauled down at sunset, if the state of the weather and other circumstances will allow it. At sunrise, at meridian, and at sunset, a salute of 21 guns shall be fired from every vessel in commission mounting six guns and upwards.”
“On the twenty-second day of February, the anniversary of the birth of Washington, a salute of twenty-one guns shall be fired at meridian from every vessel of the navy in commission mounting six guns and upwards.”
Today, the national salute of 21 guns is fired in honor of a national flag, the sovereign or chief of state of a foreign nation, a member of a reigning royal family, and the President, ex-President, and President-elect of the United States.
It is also fired at noon of the day of the funeral of a President, ex-President, or President-elect, on Washington’s Birthday, Presidents Day, and the Fourth of July. On Memorial Day, a salute of 21 minute guns is fired at noon while the flag is flown at half mast.