Ever since I enlisted in the army straight out of college, I have been hand saluting at the proper time. These days, that means saluting the American flag, the stars and stripes, rather than saluting a military superior or returning the salute on an inferior. Saluting others ended when my three-year army enlistment was over in 1961. Nowadays, my saluting is mostly limited to American Legion meetings where we stand at attention and salute as a color guard brings the flag into the gathering at the beginning of a session or removes it at the end. The command, given by the post commander, is “Present Arms!” We hold the salute until the commander says “Order Arms!”
The hand salute is a gesture intended to show respect. When directed to a person, the saluter should make eye contact with that person. When directed to the U.S. flag or while listening to a playing of the national anthem, the saluter should remain at attention and look straight ahead.
As used in the U.S., the hand salute consists of raising the right hand to the upper right corner of the right eye, then returning the hand to the side. The motion raising and lowering the hand should be sharp and quick. According to the website MilitaryBenefits.info, the salute is a “‘one-count movement.’ The right hand should be raised sharply, fingers and thumb extended with the palm facing down. The tip of the right forefinger should meet the rim of the headgear visor to the right of the right eye.”
The hand salute is used everywhere in the world with slight variations. In some nations, the palm of the right hand faces outward. In others, the fingers are slightly curved. Sometimes, the right hand ends the salute by moving outward away from the face before returning to the side. Variations notwithstanding, the salute is invariably a gesture of respect.
To me personally, the salute expresses not only respect but the intense attachment that connects people who work together in a military setting, especially during combat. As I have written here in earlier posts, the strongest human bond I have ever experienced is that between men fighting side by side. American men don’t like to use the word “love” to describe the feelings they have for one another, but the bond between combatants is the strongest love I have ever experienced.
So for me, the salute symbolizes my commitment to put my life on the line for the men fighting next to me. That makes it sacred.