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, officer wore white gloves and it was considered most undignified to present a dirty palm in the salute so the hand was turned through 90 degrees.
- Raise right hand in a direct manner
- Tip of forefinger touches the lower part of the headgear above and to the right of the eye
- Keep thumb and fingers straight and firmly together
- Should be able to see their entire palm when looking straight ahead
- The upper arm is parallel to the deck and the forearm is at a 45 degree angle
- When not in ranks turn head and eyes toward the person of colors being saluted
- Execute at attention or when marching
- Salute officers parading colors or standards
- 6-8 paces or at the nearest point
- Salute colors or the music for colors when in sight or hearing
- Salute when covered and outdoors
- Indoors if in the performance of watch standing duties
- Juniors always salute first
- Salute smartly