Why do members of the military salute each other?

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LAST UPDATED: November 21, 2020 by Ryan M

Some speculate that the military salute dates back to Roman times when soldiers raised their hands as a form of greeting or respect, however, there is no definitive evidence of this.

Another theory is that the salute originated during the Medieval Period when knights would use their hands to raise their helmet visors, revealing their identity which demonstrated trust and friendliness. This explanation is also speculation but seems to make sense.

Military Salute
A typical military salute

The US Army Quartermaster School provides another explanation for the modern-day hand salute. It was a long-established military tradition for subordinates to remove their headgear in the presence of a superior. As late as the American Revolution, British Army soldiers saluted superiors by removing their hat. However, with the advent of increasingly cumbersome headgear in the 18th and 19th centuries, the act of removing one’s hat was gradually changed into the gesture of just grasping or touching the visor and issuing a courteous salutation. A 1745 British order book stated, “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.” Over time, this might have morphed the modern-day hand salute.

The palm being downwards when saluting is said to have evolved because the palms of deckhands were often dirty from working the shipyards and showing a dirty hand was considered insulting.

So, no one knows for sure where the military salute came from, but it likely has something to do with headgear.

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INTERESTING REFERENCES
  1. BBC.com – Who, What, Why: Why does the military insist on saluting?
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