What is the Protocol for Veterans Saluting the Flag During the National Anthem?

by Kenneth V. Oster

Respect for the flag is an important issue for those who have served in one of the U.S. military branches. Official flag protocol specifies when and how civilian and military personnel are expected to salute the flag. The civilian salute is different than the military salute. A recent change to U.S. law now allows military veterans to continue rendering the military salute when not in uniform.

National Anthem Salute

All U.S. citizens, whether military or civilian, are expected to stand and salute when the national anthem is played. A provision in the Defense Authorization Act of 2009, which was signed by President George W. Bush, authorizes military veterans not in military uniform to render a military-style hand salute at the playing of the national anthem. The provision does not address whether head cover should be removed prior to rendering a salute. The accepted practice is to follow the same protocol as you would if your were in uniform.

Flag Raising and lLowering

Many people raise and lower the flag at their homes or places of business in an informal and casual manner every day. On military installations flag raising ("Reveille"), and flag lowering ("Retreat") are events that are taken seriously. Military members out of doors when "Reveille" or "Retreat" is sounded are expected to stop, turn toward the music and render a salute. A provision in the Defense Authorization Act of 2008 authorized military-style hand salutes for veterans out of uniform during raising and lowering of the flag.

Flag Passing in Review

U.S. flag waving

Viewing parades on festive occasions is an event that Americans experience every year. An honor guard carrying a U.S. flag usually signals the start of a parade. People along the parade route stand and render a salute as the flag goes by. This is a time of great pride for veterans who had the privilege of serving the country during military service. A provision in the Defense Authorization Act of 2008 also authorized military-style hand salutes for veterans out of uniform when the flag carried by an honor guard passes in review.

Pledge of Allegiance

The salute to the flag during the reciting of the Pledge of Allegiance has changed significantly since the beginning of the 20th century. Prior to Word War II, children in school would have saluted the flag with an outstretched hand, with the palm up. When official flag protocol was finally established, the salute was changed to the right hand over the heart. Although the new provisions to the law do not specifically address the military salute during the recitation of the pledge, many veterans are rendering the military-style hand salute when the pledge is given.

Not Mandatory

There are no provisions in the law concerning flag etiquette and protocol that mandate any penalty for civilians not saluting the flag. If you are a military veteran no longer wearing a uniform, you may choose to salute the flag as other civilians do by removing your hat and holding your hand over your heart or you may render a military-style hand salute. The new provisions to the law provide you the liberty to render respect to the flag as your conscience dictates.

About the Author

Kenneth Oster's leadership experience includes an Air Force career, pastoral leadership, and business ownership in the automotive repair industry. He has a MBA from Western Governors University, and is working toward a DBA degree from Northcentral University. Oster authored the book, "The Complete Guide to Preserving Meat, Fish and Game: Step-by-Step Instructions to Freezing, Canning, Curing and Smoking."

Photo Credits

  • three people and us flag image by jimcox40 from Fotolia.com