Wednesday, September 24, 2014
I have been saluting for a very long time – since my early childhood, in JROTC and beyond in the Active Army. President Obama’s “Latte Salute” has received much attention the last few days and has been the source of much debate. A less than stellar “Puppy Salute” by former President George W. Bush has also come under scrutiny. What’s the big deal? The US Army Quartermaster Center and School presents this fine summary on its website: “No one knows the precise origin of today’s hand salute. From earliest times and in many distant armies throughout history, the right hand (or "weapon hand") has been raised as a greeting of friendship. The idea may have been to show that you weren't ready to use a rock or other weapon. Courtesy required that the inferior make the gesture first. Certainly there is some connection between this old gesture and our present salute. One romantic legend has it that today’s military salute descended from the medieval knight's gesture of raising his visor to reveal his identity as a courtesy on the approach of a superior. Another even more fantastic version is that it symbolizes a knight's shielding his eyes from the dazzling beauty of some high-born lady sitting in the bleachers of the tournament. The military salute has in fact had many different forms over the centuries. At one time it was rendered with both hands! In old prints one may see left-handed salutes. In some instances the salute was rendered by lowering the saber with one hand and touching the cap visor with the other. The following explanation of the origin of the hand salute is perhaps closest to the truth: It was a long-established military custom for juniors to remove their headgear in the presence of superiors. In the British Army as late as the American Revolution a soldier saluted bv removing his hat. But with the advent of more cumbersome headgear in the 18th and 19th centuries, the act of removing one’s hat was gradually converted into the simpler gesture of grasping the visor, and issuing a courteous salutation. From there it finally became conventionalized into something resembling our modern hand salute. As early as 1745 (more than two-and-a-half centuries ago) a British order book states that: "The men are ordered not to pull off their hats when they pass an officer, or to speak to them, but only to clap up their hands to their hats and bow as they pass." Whatever the actual origin of today’s hand salute, clearly in the tradition of the US Army it has always been used to indicate a sign of RESPECT – further recognition that in the profession of arms military courtesy is both a right and a responsibility of every soldier.” AH… RESPECT. The hand salute is ultimately a sign of respect for the one who first offers a salute towards the one who returns it. It is generally offered as a courtesy to officers by enlisted personnel, by junior officers to officers of higher rank or in the performance of certain duties by an individual of lower rank to an individual of higher rank. Those who have earned the Congressional Medal of Honor merit a Hand Salute from all other uniformed individuals in the course of passing by when in uniform wearing the CMOH Award. As civilians, Presidents are not required to salute. In conversations to which I’ve been privy today, it has been noted that President Eisenhower did not salute during his presidency. Most didn’t until Ronald Reagan’s administration. President Reagan, known for his deep affection for the military began returning the salutes of those who served him as he disembarked Presidential Aircraft and in other situations as well. It was not required, but he executed the salutes properly, directing his full attention to those who sought to honor by acknowledging their required rendering of honor towards him in like fashion. Other presidents followed suit and have generally performed sufficiently with some exceptions. President George W. Bush received some backlash for saluting while trying to hold his pet and, of course, President Obama is receiving much criticism this week for saluting while holding a beverage in his hand. In a military setting, such an act might engender any number of responses, all negative. The point of the salute is to focus one’s attention on the person and the act. I describe what the two presidents have done in their less stellar moments as kissing one’s significant other while looking at one’s phone, watch or someone else. It’s not the unforgiveable sin, but it is significant and negative and it is likely to cause a stir that will lead to some serious negative interactions. So, let’s hope that our Commanders-In-Chief from this time forward will stay “in the moment.” Let’s encourage them to pay respect to whom respect is due, and to give those who themselves give so much one focused moment of attention, carrying on a simple and cherished act that represents the most honored and sacred traditions of the United States Military.