No definitive beginning can be traced to the history of the military salute. Most sources speculate the roots to this time honored tradition date as far back as the Roman times when assassins were common. It is believed the raising of the right hand was a gesture to show they were not shielding any type of weapon. Also, knights were said to raise their visors with their right hand upon greeting a comrade or superior.
The gesture eventually evolved as a show of respect and would sometimes include removing the hat. By 1820, the gesture was officially modified to the current version still used in the military today – the touching of the hat. Hand salute, palm down is believed to be an influence of the British Navy, as deck hands were often dirty and to expose the dirty palm was regarded as disrespectful.
A salute is a privileged gesture which shows a sign of trust and respect among soldiers. In the military, the subordinate always salutes first. A soldier’s salute reflects his pride in himself, his unit and shows confidence in his ability as a soldier. When saluting, the eyes and head should face the person (or flag) being saluted. Military salutes are not required if the conditions are inappropriate or impractical, such as an airport, inside a public place (theater, restaurant, etc.) or when driving.
Individuals Entitled to a Salute
Protocol requires a salute to the following:
- President of the US
- Commissioned and Warrant Officers
- All Medal of Honor Recipients
- Officers of Allied Foreign Countries
A salute is always rendered for the following:
- US National Anthem, “To the Color”, “Hail to the Chief”, or the playing of any foreign national anthem
- When national colors are uncased outdoors
- Ceremonial occasions,
- Ceremonial reveille and retreat
- Raising and lowering of the flag
- When honors are sounded
- Pledge of Allegiance – outdoors
- When rendering reports
- When turning over control of formations
Long gone are the days of the Roman soldiers and the medieval knights, but the mark they left on history regarding the military salute has continued to live on.