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Origin of the salute

Posted 4/13/2007   Updated 4/13/2007 Email story   Print story


4/13/2007 - SHEPPARD AIR FORCE BASE, Texas -- As the Air Force continues to celebrate its 60th Anniversary, let's take a look back on some of the customs and how they originated. 

Today, the origin of the hand salute is uncertain. Some historians believe it began in late Roman times when assassinations were common. A citizen who wanted to see a public official had to approach with his right hand raised to show that he did not hold a weapon.
Knights in armor raised visors with the right hand when meeting a comrade. 

This practice gradually became a way of showing respect, and, in early American history, sometimes involved removing the hat. By 1820, the motion was modified to touching the hat, and since then it has become the hand salute used today. 

In British history, in the early 1800s, the Coldstream Guards amended the British military salute custom of tipping the hat. They were instructed to clap their hands to their hats and bow as they pass by. This was quickly adopted by other Regiments as wear and tear on the hats by constant removal and replacing was a matter of great concern. 

By the mid-19th century, the salute had evolved further with the open hand, palm to the front, and this has remained the case since then. 

Most historians believe, however, that the U.S. military salute was influenced more by the British Navy. The naval salute differs from the "open hand" British army salute in that the palm of the hand faces down towards the shoulder. This dates back to the days of sailing ships, when tar and pitch were used to seal the timber from seawater. 

To protect their hands, officers wore white gloves and it was considered most undignified to present a dirty palm in the salute so the hand was turned 90 degrees. 

The salute is a courteous exchange of greetings, with the junior member always saluting first. When returning or rendering an individual salute, the head and eyes are turned toward the colors or person saluted. When in ranks, the position of attention is maintained unless otherwise directed. 

Military personnel in uniform are required to salute when they meet and recognize persons entitled by grade to a salute. The exception to the rule is when it is inappropriate or impractical, for example, in public conveyances such as planes and buses, in public places such as inside theaters or when driving a vehicle. 

There are some people automatically entitled to a salute: the president of the United States who also serves as the commander-in-chief, commissioned officers and warrant officers, any Medal of Honor recipient and officers of friendly foreign countries. A salute is also rendered when the United States national anthem, "To the Colors," "Hail to the Chief" or foreign national anthems are played. 

No matter whether in or out of uniform, on or off duty, be sure to render the proper greetings to one another. Salutes convey respect for the rank, for the Air Force, and for each other.

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