Who, what, when, and how to salute is pounded into us in boot camp leaving another of the indelible marks we have as ex-military. Through our military careers we did it and mostly correctly. When we left the service we stopped and went back to the civilian ways of doing it. After all, we didn't have to salute people any more, just the colors. So we saluted our flag uncovered with out hands over our hearts as we should. But lately a movement has started for veterans who have served this great country to salute the colors in the military manner.
I restarted saluting in the 80's twenty years after my discharge from the Navy at the funeral of my father in law, LT Lawrence E. Birge USNR. I loved and respected him for many things, just one of which was his WW2 service. As a communications officer he rode tankers from Boston to Liverpool through part of the war. After 6 years in submarines I knew the possible inferno a German torpedo could create in seconds after hitting the side of a tanker of Avgas. The quiet bravery of the men, civilian and military, that rode such ships time and time again through the cold and flaming hell of the North Atlantic deserves the respect of all.
After the service, the flag folded and the recorded notes of taps have drifted into the sky. Music that fades but never quite fades to nothingness over the graves of those that served us so well. Yet something was missing, I needed to say good bye and honor this veteran. Without really thinking about it I popped to my best parade ground attention and gave a perfect salute to the coffin just lowered into its forever resting place.
It was right and it felt good.
It may well have ended there but not long after I was walking down the street when a bent old man came walking toward me on unsteady feet. The eyes the looked out under a ball cap brim with "Guadalcanal Marine" on it were bright and clear. As he came to me I slowed and saluted saying,
"Thank you for your service, Sir."
Smiling and returning it, he answered,
"You don't need to salute an old enlisted Marine son."
My answer surprised me, "It was an honor to do it, Sir"
There was my answer; it was an honor to show such a man respect. We saluted while in the service to show respect. Now I can't do it because I am no longer in uniform? As my good friend and shipmate Dex Armstrong once said,
"Turn over your dolphins, is there an expiration date on the back?"
"If there isn't, you still are a submariner."
Well, there is no expiration date on the fact that we are armed forces veterans of the United States of America either. If they can burn our flag under the guise of freedom of speech, which is their right, then we can salute it, which is our right.
Hence forth, when covered with a military style ball cap,
I will salute,
our flag in parades,
during the National Anthem,
during the Pledge of Allegiance,
Medal of Honor winners,
at the graves of my shipmates and others who have served,
and anyone I deem worthy of the honor it shows.