As early as 1745, a British order book states that: "The men are ordered not to pull off their hats when they pass an officer, or to speak to them, but only to clap up their hands to their hats and bow as they pass."
Whatever the actual origin of today’s hand salute, it is used in today’s military as a sign of respect. Some point to remember about hand salutes:
- Salutes are customarily given with the right hand, but there are exceptions. A sailor with his right arm or hand encumbered may salute left-handed; however, a soldier or airman never salutes left-handed. A sailor does not salute when uncovered, but may salute when seated in a vehicle; however, a soldier or airman may salute while sitting or uncovered.
- Women follow the same customs and rules as men, with one exception. A woman in uniform indoors, where men customarily remove their hats, need not remove her hat.
- Salute all officers of all U.S. services and all allied foreign services. When enlisted chief/senior/master chief petty officers perform duties normally assigned to an officer, such as standing JOOD watches or taking a division muster, they rate the same salute as an officer.
- Unless walking, always salute from the position of attention. If you are walking, you need not stop; but hold yourself erect and square. If you are on the double or running, slow to a walk before you salute.
- Look directly into the officer’s eyes as you salute
- If you are carrying something in both hands and cannot render the hand salute, look at the officer as though you were saluting, and render a verbal greeting as described below.
- Remove a pipe, cigar, or cigarette from your mouth or hand before you salute.
- Salute officers even if they are uncovered or their hands are occupied. Your salute will be acknowledged by a verbal greeting, such as “Good morning,” “Good afternoon,” or something similar.
- Since Army and Air Force policy is to salute when uncovered, when you are around a group of Army or Air Force personnel, and all of you are uncovered, and an officer enters and the soldiers rise and salute, you should do likewise to be respectful.
- If you are walking or standing with a commissioned officer and the occasion for a salute arises for you and the officer, do not salute until the officer starts the salute and then quickly do the same.
- When approaching an officer, start your salute far enough away from the officer to allow time for your salute to be seen and returned. This space can vary; but a distance of about six paces is considered good for this purpose. Hold your salute until it is returned or until you are six paces past the officer.
- Salute all officers who are close enough to be recognized as officers. It is not necessary to identify an officer by name; however, ensure that he/she is wearing the uniform of an officer.