The Presidential Return Salute

DrillMasterDrillCenter News, Protocol and Flag 4 Comments

General of the Army
Dwight D. Eisenhower

Civilians do not return a salute, they aren’t military. Even a President who served in any branch of the US military, serves as the civilian head of the Armed Forces as Commander-in-Chief. As an example, President Eisenhower did not return a salute while he was in office even though he was a prior General of the Army (5-star). There apparently was one time during a Medal of Honor presentation to Hiroshi “Hershey” Miyamura, that the President did return a salute (see article comments below). This could have been force of habit.

Salutes Given

The President, as commander-in-chief (CinC) of the US armed forces, is the only civilian at the federal level who receives a direct salute (one-on-one). Each Governor is also saluted (one-on-one) as CinC of the state’s Army and Air Force National Guard. Also, all civilians (US or foreign) may receive an indirect salute (like in a cordon).

The Beginning

President Reagan is the man who began the Presidential Return Salute.

5-19-1987 President Reagan returns direct salutes descending the steps of Air Force One at Andrews Air Force Base

President Reagan, wanted to show his respect to those on Marine One, Air Force One, and at the White House. It wasn’t enough for him to just receive, he wanted to do something in return.

Each President since has continued the tradition to varying degrees (this is not the place to get into the terrible salute techniques of each subsequent US head of state). I understand why President Reagan did it and that if any President after him would have discontinued the tradition, he would have been vilified most likely. After all, the position of Commander-in-Chief of the US Armed Forces returning a salute does make a bit of sense. However, it gone from a humble beginning to being abused.

Salute Abuse

The so-called “Latte Salute” of President Obama was rightfully criticized in the media at the time. There was no reason for him to do that, his left hand was free. Below is a still from the Huffington Post.

The Infamous “Latte Salute”

President Trump has extended the use of the salute to beyond just returning a direct salute from members of the military. He rendered a hand salute for ceremonies at the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier, for example. President Reagan went beyond the purview of the salute protocol, but the return salute, as I mentioned, is understandable. Now, it’s gotten out of hand.

Stop, Just Stop

Military, law enforcement, and anyone else. Stop rendering a hand salute to those who do not warrant a salute. Civilians, stop trying to be more than you are.

Vice Presidents

Unfortunately, while Mr. Pence was in office, he decided to begin the tradition for the VP position. This doesn’t make sense and cheapens the Presidential Return Salute.

The West Point cadet should not be saluting the VP.

A collage of unwarranted VP salutes

Also unfortunate is Ms. Harris continuing the tradition for the VP position. Yes, the VP is second in line as commander-in-chief of the US armed forces, but there isn’t anything like “Assistant/Deputy CinC”.

The photo below makes no sense. This is then-VP Pence receiving a salute from a FL state trooper and the VP returning it. There was no reason for the trooper to salute. Neither are military.

A Secretary?

I do not mean to be disrespectful, but Department of Homeland Security Secretary Mayorkas returning a salute rendered by a cordon of Coast Guard Academy cadets, it’s 100% wrong. You overstepped your bounds, Mr. Secretary.

And a note to the Coast Guard Academy: This line of cadets is so overly done that it begins to look ridiculous. This is not an appropriate cordon. Cabinet-level secretaries receive a 19-gun salute and that means a 19-man cordon. That’s it. See AR 600-25, Salutes, Honors, and Courtesy, Table 3-1.


As stated above, a governor is the commander-in-chief of the state’s Army and Air National Guards and State Guard, if there is one. In the capacity of CinC, the Governor warrants a salute, he/she could return it. Governor DeSantis is seen here here rendering a hand salute during the National Anthem.

The Governor is a LTCDR in the Navy Reserve and as a (currently serving) veteran is authorized to render a hand salute in civilian clothes as per the Defense Authorization Act of 2000 (all veterans may, the Marine Corps restricts the salute to covered while outdoors and no other time).

Governor DeSantis saluting with members of the FLNG

Enough Already!

If all this saluting were to stop, there would be a baseless uproar. But let’s do it anyway and explain the situation to the American people.

Comments 4

  1. Thank you for your research on this topic. In this day and age it has become rather important. Oddly enough the lack of attention or awareness does not stop with the military or law enforcement.

    Now, I don’t mean to insult or demean anyone because I believe their intentions are true and their hearts are in the right place, but I see a lot of salutes from people in civilian clothes at MLB games during our National Anthem. Also, parents during the presenting, and retiring, of the colors at my son’s BSA troop meetings.

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  2. During a Medal of Honor ceremony, Dwight Eisenhower returned a salute from it’s recipient, Hiroshi “Hershey” Miyamura. Confirmation of this is available via the 2018 Netflix documentary Medal of Honor.

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