From the desk of John Hanson, Senior Vice President of Communications for the USO:

First of all, I love this country.  You’re waiting for a conjunction, aren’t you? Nope.  I just wanted that on the table.

[caption id=“attachment_1282” align=“alignright” width=“200” caption=“U.S Soldiers with Alpha Company, 1st Battalion, 17th Infantry Regiment raise an American flag on a roof being used as a lookout point during Operation Helmand Spider in Badula Qulp, Helmand province, Afghanistan, Feb. 10, 2010. (U.S. Air Force photo by Tech. Sgt. Efren Lopez/Released)”][/caption]

Lately, I’ve been thinking about saluting the flag.  Last year, Congress made it acceptable for veterans and military members not in uniform to render the traditional hand salute (right hand to the right eyebrow) when the colors of the nation are formally presented.  I understand why that might be important to some people, but I have to wonder what’s wrong with the other traditional method of honoring the flag (right hand over heart).

First, please understand, honoring the flag is something far too few Americans do; and often when they do, it’s a clumsy exercise in what seems to be embarrassed under achievement.  You can almost see people asking, “Am I doing this right? How long do I do it? Is anyone watching me?”

But, I’ve also noticed that over the past few years, more and more people are making the effort to respect the flag, and even the clumsiest efforts will eventually become easy.  I take that as good news.  (Reading the very brief and easily understood U.S. Flag Code is also a good idea)

A few months ago, I was at an indoor event.  The Master of Ceremonies urged all veterans and military members out of uniform to render the traditional hand salute to honor the flag as the Color Guard made its way forward.  On the one hand (no puns here, really) it was quite a sight, seeing people in suits standing and saluting proudly.  I stood there, with my hand over my heart (I’m a veteran and proud of it) wondering:

–Are these folks all veterans?  How do we know?

–Aren’t we inside?  Do people salute inside these days?

–Shouldn’t there be some kind of headwear?

Okay, I didn’t wonder all that until the colors were presented, the National Anthem performed and the Color Guard left the room.

I’m not sure when this saluting as a civilian behavior started.  When I was a kid, I don’t remember seeing President Eisenhower salute the Marines at the White House or when he left Air Force One.  I remember his nodding and going about his business.  Maybe I’m wrong, but if HE could get away with not saluting, can’t other Presidents?  I could be over thinking this, but one of the great principles that makes the United States unique is that the military is under the ultimate control of a civilian leader – the President.  In many ways, that’s been a comfort.  The public’s requirement that a president salute makes me uncomfortable, somehow.  That’s not a partisan statement, it’s just a statement. I remember one of my ROTC instructors explaining the salute as a way to “Say Hello.”  Isn’t that what the wave of a hand does?

What’s also unique about this country is how many people will tell me I’m wrong, rather than simply telling me they disagree with me.  The quickest way to kill a conversation is to turn it off with one of those “right-wrong” or “right-left” exchanges.   So it goes.

Look, I don’t care if you want to salute.  What was seen as a tremendous hassle to those of us when we were in the lower enlisted ranks seems to be something else today.

So, go ahead.  Hold that salute for the Colors to come in and for the National Anthem.  Just don’t sing while you’re doing it.  That, it seems to me, is a real break in saluting protocol.

Me?  I’m proud to place my hand over my heart, like my Daddy taught me.