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 never returned a salute while he was in office even though he was a prior General of the Army (5-star).
While the President is the only civilian who receives a direct salute (one-on-one), all civilians may receive an indirect salute (like in a cordon).
President Reagan is the man who began the Presidential Return Salute.
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.
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.
President Trump has extended the use of the salute to beyond just returning a direct salute from members of the military. He will render a hand salute for ceremonies at the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier, for example. On the command, “Present Arms”, he renders a salute. 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.
Now Everyone’s Doing It
Is this one-upmanship? “Oh yeah? Well, I’m going to salute harder than ever before. My salute is going to be #ceremonialer than yours.”
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. 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 this is going too far.
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. He’s not military, but probably once was. OK, but “once was” are the operative words here.
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, but not returning 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).
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.