Veterans Salute the Flag
Covered or Not?

by Jim Beidler
(Womelsdorf, Pa)

Jim writes:

When a veteran salutes the flag during the National Anthem must they be covered or can they be uncovered - hats or no hats?

Editor: Jim, thank you for your question, and thank you for your service.

I will venture a guess, based on your question, that you were a member of the Naval Service (Navy or Marine Corps). Army and Air Force personnel salute while in uniform whether covered or not, but the Naval Service salutes only when covered, even in uniform.

The exact language of the act reads:

"Members of the Armed Forces and veterans who are present but not in uniform may render the military salute. All other persons present should face the flag and stand at attention with their right hand over the heart, or if applicable, remove their headdress with their right hand and hold it at the left shoulder, the hand being over the heart." (Emphasis added.)

From this language, it appears to be acceptable for veterans not in uniform to render a military salute whether or not they are covered. And since it says, "all others" should remove their (covers), that seems to say it's acceptable for veterans who are saluting the flag to remain covered while doing so, but it is not necessary for them to be covered.

This particular language only covered saluting the flag when it was being raised or lowered, or was passing. The Defense Authorization Act of 2009 now clarifies that this provision also applies during the performance of the National Anthem or the reciting of the Pledge of Allegiance.


On the one hand, common sense would seem to say that in determining their course of action, veterans might simply render the same honors they would if in uniform. That seems to help simplify matters for many.

There are others who feel very strongly that they earned the right to salute Old Glory, and that in doing so, they honor not only the national colors, but all who have served her, and pay tribute to those who have made the ultimate sacrifice in her service.

In December 2008, in ALMAR 052/08, Commandant of the Marine Corps, General James T. Conway wrote:

". . . A recent change to the law has authorized active duty and retired servicemembers to salute the National Colors, whether covered or uncovered, indoors or out. By custom and tradition, Marines do not render the hand salute when out of uniform or when uncovered. Let there be no confusion; that has not changed.

During the playing of the National Anthem, or the raising, lowering, or passing of the National Flag, Marines will continue to follow Naval traditions and the policy/ procedures contained in reference (a) {the Marine Corps Drill and Ceremonies Manual}.

Specifically, Marines not in uniform will face the flag, stand at attention, and place the right hand over the heart. If covered, Marines not in uniform will remove their headgear with the right hand and place their right hand over the heart. When the flag is not present, Marines will act in the same manner while facing in the direction of the music. In cases such as indoor ceremonies, when Marines are in uniform and uncovered, they will face the flag, or the direction of the music when the flag is not present, and stand at attention."

In April 2009, CNO Admiral Gary Roughead followed suit in NAVADMIN 098/09. It begins:

"The intent of this NAVADMIN is to eliminate any confusion regarding appropriate honors to the flag by Navy personnel. By custom and tradition, Navy personnel do not render the hand salute when out of uniform or when uncovered; that has not changed. . . ."

It then contains the same language as the ALMAR, making it applicable to sailors rather than Marines.

It goes on to say, "Leave no one to doubt the seriousness of our commitment or the depth of our pride."

I believe it is exactly the depth of that pride that is causing so many questions, as veterans out of uniform want to make sure they "get it right."

Notice that the Commandant refers to "active duty and retired servicemembers." He does not address separated veterans who are not retired.

So, on the one hand, you have the "Once a Marine, Always a Marine" crowd who says, "I will do whatever my Commandant tells me to do."

And then you have others who point out, "Well, he didn't (and can't) tell you what to do since you are a civilian and not in a pay status."

And Admiral Roughead addresses "Navy personnel" and "sailors," also not mentioning separated veterans or retirees. One might argue that retirees could be included in the term "Navy personnel" since retirees remain in a pay status.

I noted an astute comment on another discussion board by RADM John Bepko, USN (retired), former Deputy Commander, Military Sealift Command, who said,

"This issue of saluting when "Covered or not covered;" "in civilian clothes or uniform" is for the most part TOTALLY misunderstood by so many of you.

You, as American Citizens, have the right to honor the flag in whatever way suits you - as long as you violate no laws against desecration of the flag - and there are too few of those.

ALL Veterans were ALWAYS given the option of saluting. Who would ever tell them not to???

The new 'Law' changes nothing - just states what is a common practice.

I have saluted, and will always salute my flag -in uniform or out - covered or not. I, and all my fellow veterans have earned that right.

Stop quibbling over nonsense . . . you always had this right."

I have to say, he makes a lot of sense.

Bottom line for me:

The new law specifically makes it permissible for veterans not in uniform to salute the flag. It is not mandatory. It does not specify a right way or a wrong way.

As far as I am concerned, honoring our flag, and all that it represents, is the right thing to do, for every American. It doesn't matter to me whether the saluting veteran is covered or uncovered, or even what symbol or words are on his baseball cap. He's rendering his respect to our national symbol.

But if there's a guy wearing a head cover of any sort during the playing of the National Anthem or presentation of the Colors, he'd better be a veteran saluting!

Most veterans (this one included) take great pride in their service, and rightly so. They have earned the right, I believe, to salute our flag anywhere they choose. In doing so, they honor not only their own service, but that of every other veteran, both before and after them. And they remember and pay tribute to those who paid the ultimate price so they would continue to have the right to honor that flag.

Another benefit of having veterans salute the flag: youngsters may be prompted to ask questions of or about those veterans, and may learn respect for our flag and our veterans that they may not have learned in school or at home!

I can't imagine that anyone would ever be reprimanded for honoring our flag, and if that ever happens, there will be millions of veterans ready to bear arms again to protect and defend their right to do so!

What are YOUR thoughts about veterans saluting the flag? Click on the link below to add your comments to this discussion.

Comments for Veterans Salute the Flag
Covered or Not?

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Don't get too carried away
by: Anonymous

As I read this, everyone is wanting to salute in civvies instead of rendering honors with the right hand over their chest like tradition has dictated for centurys.

I will remind everyone that this is for outdoor events and indoors you should present arms as your hand over your heart when in civvies. Do make yourself look like a stolen valor wannabe by dilating [?-sic] inside while wearing civvies. Personally I will not salute while wearing civys, why because it doesn't fit the part.

Thank You
by: Steve Cox

This year (2016) was the first time I gave a hand salute during the passing of the American Flag, and held that position during the National Anthem. Had many people looking at what I was doing.

At that time my cover was the Stetson worn by the Cav units. I was with C-Troop 3/12 Cav unit. But I will now continue to do it again within the regs that have been mentioned in this article.

Thank you for clearing this issue.......

My pleasure, Steve, and thank you for your service.

We Earned the Right to Salute
by: Anonymous

I feel every veteran, retired and active duty member has earned the right to show respect to our flag by rendering a salute. Now that has been extended to the same personnel when not in uniform, so why attempt to take that away.

Saluting our flag in or out of uniform during ceremonies, the playing of our national anthem, when in passing during parades sets us apart and shows the American public a privelege that only our veterans, retired and active duty personnel have earned, and we do it proudly.

So shame on anyone attempting to put out directives or almars that prohibit certain individuals from rendering honors to our flag with a long known recognizable tradition known as the hand salute, which, by the way, we earned the right to do by serving our country.

Saluting te flag
by: MGySgt Suarez USMC/Retired

I served for a total of 31 years and while I appreciate the CMC dictating to current active duty marines not to be able to salute when not in uniform I think it is wrong and petty.

It sometimes appears senior leadership focus on petty stuff (like changing the style of our pt gear). I see nothing wrong with honoring Old Glory with a hand salute, in or out of uniform.

It shows the American public in public venues who our military personnel active, retired and veterans are. In reality, to render a hand salute to our flag is also a custom that has been earned only by a veteran, retired or active duty military member and he/she should have the choice to render respect to our flag in that manner.

Remember U.S.
by: Anonymous

When you have fought for this Great Country, wounded in action 3 times, 5 BS, 3 AM'S CIB, TWO YEARS IN VN, 23 YRS ARMY. Tell all of the veterans when and where we can Salute the flag. We will continue to carry on without the higher ups passing some laws. Unless you have served this Great Country in some way or some how, remember U.S.

Military or Civilian Salute
by: Ed Zimmerman, Jr.

From what I had read, that a Bill was passed by the Senate but shot down by the House, and an Air Force Officer that the Bill was not needed because it was "understood" that any prior service Veteran in civilian clothes, has the ability to render the salute to the colors either military or civilian of their choosing, regardless of what branch of service (Army, Coast Guard, Navy, Marines, Air Force, Regulars, Reservists, National Guard).

Did you know that a person who has served in the National Guard, attended Basic, A.I.T., Drills, Summer Camps, is not considered a Veteran by the VA because their time was all "under training" unless they were Federally activated?

That means even with me in the PAARNG 28th DIV. and USAR with over a combined 13+ years of service, I cannot get GI benefits. The Civilian population is surprised. With 2 INF, 2 FA, 1 Field Combat Support Hospital, 1 Mil. Intel. units, a Distinguished Service Award from the United Veterans' Council and Veterans Advisory Commission of Philadelphia (The 28th DIV an endorser of the DSA).

By the way, I am Founder, President and CEO for over 37 years representing the USS UNITED STATES Foundation, First Ship of the United States Navy and Commodore John Barry's Flagship.

Saluting our flag
by: Vernon Cunningham IC Elec 2nd

I served in the US NAVY during the Korean War.

I have always felt the need to salute the flag during a ceremony but have not done so.

I will do so in the future. Thank you for the info.

God bless THE USA

Honorable habit.
by: Combat Medic

I suppose after 14 years service (6 U.S. Navy, 8 U.S. Army), rendering honor by a right salute upon hearing our National Anthem and To the Flag, passing and presentation of the Colors, seemed one of the most natural things I'd do.

Prior to 2009, to salute uncovered in civvies was, by MY opinion, my earned choice. Since 2009, it is now an AUTHORIZED CHOICE.

I was told my graduation to high school from eighth grade would be jeopardized if I could not demonstrate my understanding of the content and purpose of the U.S. Constitution, our Bill of Rights and "Common Sense" by Thomas Payne.

In many cases these days, young people may graduate from high school with little of that, and feeling entitled to much more...or much less. I pray our standards and pride will be raised to its former glory and purpose.

God, bless America. HooAah!

Saluting our flag.
by: Chief Theademan USN

I could not agree more.

I think we should all show respect to this country. I see too many people out there not willing to do it anymore.

And still others who may be willing, but don't know how. When did schools stop teaching proper flag etiquette, and patriotism, for that matter?

Sometimes I think our country would be better off in many ways if we could roll the clock back to the late Fifties!

Hand Salute Out of Uniform by Veterans
by: KC Blankenbuehler

While the Hand Salute covered/uncovered to honor our country and show respect for the flag was instituted by President Bush, honors all veterans, it is any individual's decision to render that salute.

I personally will still stick to the request of the CMC who ordered by ALMAR that Marines, whether active/retired use existing protocols for the Hand Salute as tradition dictates.

It was mentioned in your explanation that this is not effective to veteran Marine and Navy personnel separated from service.

However, the CMC, at the time he issued the ALMAR, knowing he cannot order separated Marines, did orally request the ALMAR for hand salute protocols be followed by former Marines. The Navy followed suit.

You Are Correct
by: Del Ledet

You guessed right. I am formerly USN. Korean War. To use past regulations, I will use my VFW cap as cover.

Thank you for your information.

You are most welcome, Del. And thank you for your service.

My Privilege to Salute our Flag.
by: LTC John Allen Albree, USA (Ret)

I appreciate the changes made by the Defense Authorization Act of 2009. Therefore, I will continue to render the right hand salute at every legal opportunity. I am encouraging my veteran comrades to follow the Act of 2009.

Veterans Salute the Flag
by: Anonymous

Although it is not stated in any comments I have read on this issue of saluting our flag in civilian clothing, I have to assume that saluting the flag as a veteran applies to the pledge of allegiance as well?

In researching for our answer, we found this:

Guidance from AR 600-25, Salutes, Honors and Visits of Courtesy

"Soldiers may recite the Pledge of Allegiance as noted below in accordance with Section 4, Title 4, United States Code (4 USC 4):

During military ceremonies, soldiers will not recite the Pledge of Allegiance.

At official functions, social events, and sporting events, soldiers should:

   When in uniform, outdoors, stand at attention, remain silent, face the flag, and render the hand salute.

   When in uniform, indoors, stand at attention, remain silent, and face the flag.

   When in civilian attire, stand at attention, face the flag with the right hand over the heart and recite the Pledge of Allegiance. Headgear should be removed with the right hand and held over the left shoulder, the hand being over the heart."

We believe the intent of this statute was to clarify that it is acceptable for veterans to continue to render honors to our flag as they did when in uniform.

Thus, in accordance with the language above, we believe it would be appropriate to remain silent (at attention) and render the hand salute during the Pledge of Allegiance when outdoors, or, if you wish to recite the Pledge, follow the guidelines below for indoor situations.

When indoors, the appropriate gesture would be to remove any head cover with the right hand and hold it over your heart as you recite the Pledge.

Thank you for your service.

Veteran Hand Salute to Old Glory
by: John Franco

I am a Viet Nam Veteran, Army 1969. Since being allowed to by the law change, I now proudly hand salute covered, whenever our National Anthem is played.

Prior to the law being changed, I paid my respects to those that went before me by removing head gear and placing my right hand over my heart.

It just seems more appropriate to render a covered hand salute, and I appreciate being able to do this now. When asked, I do not mind explaining that as a Veteran I now have been given the right to do this by congressional action.

John, thank you for your service, and Welcome Home!

Proud to be an American
by: Anonymous

As a Vietnam Veteran 1967-68, I feel so great and honored to salute the American Flag.

A chill goes thru me and I am proud to be an American.

I believe it's good for our kids to see this also.

Thank you for your service to our country, and Welcome Home.

by: G Schaffer

Just a little note. Us military personnel, separated or not, Active or not, in my opinion do not get enough respect for serving out of the depths of our souls to keep the whiners whining.

I believe we have the utmost respect for our flag and country and we should not be told what we can and can't do to show respect to our flag, country and fellow service personnel.

I will continue to salute Old Glory till I die and not to mention we earned the right to, no matter what branch of service we are from.

Do what feels right in your soul, but more civilians should be glad we chose to serve, for them to have the opportunity to complain.

Public Law No. 110-181 of the United States Code
by: Constitution of the United States

It always concerns me when Military LEADERS and Commander in Chief [DOMA] can make decisions to obey or not the LAWS passed by the "PEOPLE" (their "bosses!")... I guess the Marines and Navy do not consider themselves as ones who should do what the "elected" representatives of the people tell them to do!

U.S. Flag Code Section 595 Section 594 of the National Defense Authorization Act for Fiscal Year 2009, the new law (Public Law No. 110-181 of the United States Code) reads:

by striking "all persons present" and all that follows through the end of the section and inserting the following: "all persons present in uniform should render the military salute. Members of the Armed Forces and veterans who are present but not in uniform may render the military salute. All other persons present should face the flag and stand at attention with their right hand over the heart, or if applicable, remove their headdress with their right hand and hold it at the left shoulder, the hand being over the heart. Citizens of other countries present should stand at attention. All such conduct toward the flag in a moving column should be rendered at the moment the flag passes.?

I see no exceptions for the USMC nor NAVAL FORCES..... I wonder if this General and Admiralty has ever read the Constitution of the United States?

While I appreciate your sentiment, you may want to read a little more carefully. The law says "Members of the Armed Forces and veterans who are present but not in uniform may render the military salute."

The law makes it optional. The Navy and Marine Corps messages you refer to simply clarify for active duty Navy and Marines that their leadership feels it appropriate for them to render a military salute only when in uniform.

Congress has delegated the right to make such regulations to our military leaders.

So there's no legal or Constitutional violation involved.

We agree, though, with your comment that more Americans need to read and study the Constitution! It used to be taught in schools.

Sadly, that's apparently not the case any longer. Do high schools not teach American History any more?! They certainly should, as "those who forget history are doomed to repeat it."

Saluting the Flag
by: Anthony Manzella

I hope you know how much your clarification means to us vets.

I saluted the flag for six years in uniform (USAF) and felt strange and disappointed not doing so when I separated from service. It is great to know I can now salute in civilian clothes. Thanks.

Anthony, thank you for your service, and for taking the time to let us know you appreciate our efforts. That is our reward for the time we devote to publishing the information on this site for free.

Veteran saluting OOU/uncovered...

As a 3rd generation Navy/Marine Corps veteran I, family and friends, interred my father 10-2009 in the Dallas area National Cemetery.

Though in a civvie suit and uncovered, I saluted my Flag and my Father's memory and honorable service during the very moving ceremony.

I wondered later if this was "legally" appropriate. Would've done it anyhow, but thanks for this clarification.

Godspeed Dad. You are missed.

Ed.note: Please accept our condolences on the passing of your father. And thank you for your service, and for that of your dad.

Army Veteran
by: Kenny Coe

I am a 1966-1967 Vietnam veteran. It is nice now to know that I can SALUTE my US FLAG at any time it is called for. I am very proud to have served this country and will now SALUTE whenever OLD GLORY is raised, lowered, or carried past in parades, or wherever she flies.

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