The Hand Salute Essay


It is evident that the rendering of the salute since its inception at time immemorial has undergone lots of modifications and transformations that it nowadays has more meanings than it originally had; was performed willingly to show friendship (Dunne, 2002). When dealing with the story of hand salutes in the current generation, what comes to mind is the military salute.  The military has embraced the culture of saluting to an extent that it can be used to portray one’s identity in society.

Some people refer to the gesture of hand salute as obeisance. Obeisance is normally a sign that depicts one’s submission to a higher authority. Other physical gestures of obeisance include bowing, kneeling before the powerful figure or kissing him or her. Customarily, hand salutes have always been performed by the use of one’s right hand. Only in such circumstances as the case of people having one hand, that is the left hand alone or in the case of sailors whose right hand might be encumbered.


Where the hand salute originated from is still uncertain historically. However, there are various explanations that try to clarify where this culture might probably have come from. According to the Romans, the hand salute came into existence during a time when there were several killings among the Roman people in the late Roman times. During this period, any civilian who wished to meet or talk to a public official was supposed to advance with the right arm raised high to confirm that he or she carried no weapon. Whenever they met a colleague, the knights having armor always used their right hands to raise their visors.

The removal of the hat as a sign of respect among Americans is also alleged to be the origin of the salute. It is said that the Americans used to remove the hat as a sign of respect a long time ago. With time the system was modified so that one only had to touch his hat. This was then transformed to the current hand salute with the passage of time. According to the British, the original British military salute that involved tipping of one’s hat underwent changes because of the Cold stream Guards. Whenever they passed, they were supposed to bow and make a clap to their hats as opposed to the previous system where they constantly removed their hats and then replaced after they had passed. This action resulted in the hats undergoing wear and tear (Allert, 2008).

It is thus assumed that this action slowly evolved to the point where the salute was developed. The explanation that was assumed to have some close association with the truth about the military salute was that it was customary for junior military officers to show respect to their superiors whenever in their presence through the removal of the head gear.  However, due to dynamism in military uniforms, some much more cumbersome hats were developed making it difficult to remove it as a sign of respect. Visor grasping accompanied by performing a courteous salute was then adopted to replace head gear removal. This underwent transformation to what is currently conventionalized as the hand salute.

Usage of the hand salute

The hand salute is touted as a symbol showing mutual respect, a sign of greeting and a show of trust as well as of confidence between people. It is normally performed by someone who is junior in ranking without any form of dignity loss on either of the parties involved. Within the military confines, the salute is regarded as a symbol used for recognition that one belongs to the profession of arms by the other members. It shows their individual commitment in the preservation of a particular people’s lifestyle through self-sacrifice. It is a form of etiquette for the junior to perform the action and for the other person to return the salute (, 2005).

In the military, extending a hand salute is a courteous gesture that stems from the military service’s cultural practices and traditions. It strengthens comradeship and unity within a given unit since it is a common symbol. As a soldier, how you salute communicates much about you. One’s military abilities and self- pride as a soldier can be seen in how he or she performs a hand salute (Allert, 2008). A poorly done salute is an expression of the lack of confidence in oneself and may be deemed that one is ashamed of his or her unit. Alternatively, it can be interpreted that one has not yet known how to salute in the proper manner.

It is required that a salute is undertaken only when wearing the headdress and this should be done intelligently. Airmen and airwomen usually perform a salute as a way of recognizing the Queen’s Commission in Britain. When in uniform soldiers are supposed to salute each other in case they meet. It is only in situations that are inappropriate that the soldiers can not salute; for example when in crowds, when working, when carrying objects with both hands, in public gatherings or in public conveyances. Because of their status that is not worthy of the comradeship associated with military personnel, prisoners may never get the privilege of saluting.

Proper manner of performing the hand salute

With the passage of time, the military salute has had to undergo various changes before settling on the form it is in currently. There was even a time it wasn’t a hand salute since it used to be rendered by the use of both hands. There are even documents showing military personnel saluting with the left hand. There are also cases where the salute has been performed by the use of the left hand. It is also evident that there was a time when the gesture was rendered by the soldiers in such a way that one hand was used to touch the cap visor whereas the other one lowered the saber as a sign of respect. A salute can also be extended to the flag used by a particular group of people, for example a nation’s national flag. (2005) explains that when performing the hand salute, one need to turn his head together with his eyes towards whomever he is saluting. The hand ought to be brought up to the proper position in a meticulous but swift way that did not involve any preliminary movement. How to salute properly with or without a head cap is by raising one’s right hand up to the point where the apex of the forefinger is in touch with the edge of one’s eyebrow, close to the right eye though slightly above it. The fingers are supposed to be straight and intact. It should appear like the region between the shoulder and the elbow is parallel to the ground and the wrist as the hand and forearm form a clear line from the elbow.

When saluting one should always stand at attention unless the situation one is in makes this seem inappropriate; for example when walking. Whenever one is saluting, his palm should be turned inwards slightly in such a manner that he can see it when viewing it from the corner of his eye.  After rendering the salute, how it is dropped is still an essential part of the salute performance. The hand should be brought back to the side which is its natural position. It is improper to slap at one’s side when dropping the salute. Any movement of the hand outwards generally makes the salute to be considered improper.

According to Dunne (2002), when rendering a hand salute it is improper to do it in a perfunctory way as this is considered to be a rude behavior. One is also not supposed to salute when having a cigarette, a pipe or a cigar in his hand or in the mouth. Some people tend to take long when waiting to salute, bow their head or even in some cases hold the hand in an awkwardly raised position when rendering a salute. These are improper ways. It is important to be keen on the distance between you and the person you are saluting. In most cases, the standard space between the person saluting and the one being saluted should be about six paces. However the maximum distance between the two individuals is thirty paces. Not unless the person being saluted returns the gesture or has passed, one should not drop the salute. It is courteous enough to ensure that the salute is accompanied by a word of greeting, be it a nod or orally communicating.

When should the hand salute be rendered?

In nearly all military services in the world, the salute is a common phenomenon and is performed by all the people within the service. It is performed by those lower in ranks in the hierarchy and back again from those at the top down to those lower in ranks. In cases where a salute is rendered to a number of officers within a service, the officers saluted only salute back the accorded gesture when the senior-most officer within the unit undertakes to return it.

Whenever the national anthem of a particular nation is being played all officers are required to stand at attention when not in formation but in the official uniform, for example in the US when the national anthem, the Star Spangled Banner, is played the officers are called to attention and perform the hand salute (, 2005). Incase not in uniform one is supposed to stand at attention and have their right hand placed on the left part of his chest. When in a military service vehicle, all the occupants stay inside the vehicle while the head dismounts and performs the hand salute as the anthem is played. The process is however different in the case of armored tankers and vehicles as the lead commander renders the gesture from within the tanker.

When an officer is performing a duty that will possibly hinder the rendering of a proper salute such an officer should not perform the salute. Having something in one’s mouth or in the hand is not the proper moment to render a salute and in such circumstances saluting should be avoided. Personnel who have just been enlisted into the military service never get the privilege of saluting one another or being saluted by an officer. Officers are not supposed to salute when indoors not unless it is to superior personnel. Members of the navy have a different form of salute from that used by the other military services. Their hand salute involves the palm of the right hand facing down while rotated ninety degrees of the normal salute. The palm points to one’s shoulder in the process.

It is not proper to salute whenever one is in formation. The only time this should happen in such a circumstance is when the command to do so is given. It is also inappropriate for an officer involved in a certain operation to render a salute, most specifically in conditions of combat when on duty for example as a guard. Times of recreation and entertainment are also not suitable for saluting as well as in situations when one is uncovered (Boatner, 1976). It is inappropriate for officers, whether a subordinate or a senior officer to exchange salutes when not in the official uniform.

Military personnel from a particular nation can render salutes to officers from another friendly foreign nation. This normally a sign of peace and the friendly tie shared between their countries. The hand salute is also performed during ceremonial events by members of the forces. An example of such a scenario is during funeral ceremonies and an event to honor the change of command. In the United States of America, an officer of the military service performs a salute when outdoor to the uncased colors of the national flag. During such times as when submitting reports, sounding honors and when handing over the control of the forces’ formation, a salute is usually performed.

Honoring the national flag

In the United States just like in many countries of the world, the national flag is a very important national symbol. Members of the forces honor the national flag by rendering a hand salute to it. Whenever the flag is raised, be it in the morning or in the evening, a soldier or any other officer of the forces is supposed to stand at attention and salute while looking at the national flag (, 2005). The moment the first note of the Reveille is played an officer is supposed to be at attention and then render the salute. The same thing happens in the evening only that this time round one is required to stand at attention and face the flag while rendering the salute immediately the first note of Retreat is heard.

Honors rendered to the US flag by the nation’s armed forces are also performed when the national anthems of foreign countries are sung or played when in parades or during important ceremonies. During the display, parading or the presentation of colors, an officer passing by or one who happens to be in sight when this is happening is required to perform a hand salute if the colors are about six paces from where he is positioned.

Other groups that use the hand salute apart from the military

Dunne (2002) asserts that there are different groups of people who use the hand salute for other reasons apart from the salute’s customary usage by the military. Groups such as the Guide movements as well as the Scouts’ movements also use the hand salute though theirs is slightly different from that applied by the military. In certain parts of the world there are also religious denominations that employ the hand salute in their practices; the brigades too use the hand salute as a sign of respect and identity.

The Drum Major has copied the military hand salute and they display this prior to their performances. This is a marching band used to entertain people in shows. Before and after their performances these troupes usually render the military hand salute to the audience. Other drum corps too use hand salutes though these are modified versions of the military salute.


Historically, the origin of the modern hand salute can not be precisely revealed since information regarding it is not certain. Though saluting has often been associated with the military in different parts of the world, other groups of people have also embraced this culture in their various lifestyles, though not doing it as a formal activity. As earlier observed, in the United States of America, the military performs the hand salute majorly during such times as when the nation’s uncased colors are displayed, whenever the national anthem is being played, in the presence of another officer, when meeting officers of a friendly foreign state or when a foreign country’s national anthem is being played.

Performing the hand salute in a proper way involves having one’s right hand raised. The wrist together with the hand should be straight so that the tip of one’s fore finger slightly touches the lower part of the right eyebrow when executing. The fingers on this hand should be intact and the forearm performing the salute, that is the right hand, should be inclined such that the area between the shoulder and the elbow is horizontal to the ground. It is not proper for a civilian or a non-military person to salute military personnel. This is because he does not share in the comradeship that exists between them. It is also customary for them to carry out the practice.