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A change to Section 9 of the US Flag Code, written into the Defense Authorization Act of 2008, now gives veterans and members of the US Armed Forces the authority to render a hand salute to the flag, whether or not in uniform, or wearing the apparel of a VSO (veterans service organization) such as the American Legion, Veterans of Foreign Wars, or Vietnam Veterans’ cap.

The American Legion and the VFW both strongly opposed this legislation at the executive level. Reading through the various on-line threads, I came away with the impression that older veterans oppose this change, but younger veterans seem to like it. Having said that, a goodly number of Marines are adamantly opposed to this change, regardless of the time-frame in which they served.

As I frequently do when writing about the military, I consulted my favorite veteran—my son, Kelly, who served in the U.S. Navy for seven years. He was very surprised by this news, and said that he did not believe that he could ever render a hand salute out of uniform, and I would consider him a “younger” veteran (but he’s getting so old that it’s embarrassing–pretty soon I’ll have to start lying about his age).

Compliance to the U.S. Flag Code is voluntary, and this change in the code will be acted upon “voluntarily” too. But please be sensitive to this new rule; we will see more and more people using a hand-salute while in civilian clothing.

UPDATE: SEE ALSO—Veterans Salute the Flag—clarifying the change in the U.S. Code

36 Responses to “Flag Code change—Veterans can hand-salute the flag”

  1. Don Bednarz says:

    It is a shame that we now have veterans and active duty personal going at each other about who should salute the flag. If we want to get picky why not stop all those that salute the flag without any hat. So if the American Legion and the VFW are against it they should go after the ones that are at their functions that salute with no hat on. My American Legion Post has many that do. So If I am wearing a hat that might have my ships name and picture on it why shouldn’t I, as an ex service man be able to salute something I am proud of???

    I was at the MCAS MIRAMAR AIR SHOW over this weekend. The section I sat in was a VIP section with about 500 people. When the color gaurd passed 75 ex and active duty people stood and saluted all under cover. When we were done the people in the area we were in made us feel good by saying thank you for serving.

    I have a uncle who servived the Battan Death March and he has saluted the flag everytime it has come by or is presented while under cover. If you want to pick on someone pick on him, he has been to hell and back, he is 92.

    So as long as I have any type of hat that has a military in signia or anything to do with the military, I will salute the flag that I have defended wheather you like it or not!!!!!!!!!

    I fly the flag 24 hours a day along with the Navy Flag. It seems now that I should take down the American Flag and the Navy Flag because of the proplem that we are having on the proper way to honor our flag?

    Ex Navy,

  2. Dear Mr. Bednarz,

    I don’t know what offended you, but I ask that you please read my article again.
    Be assured—I have no personal opinion on the change in the Flag Code that permits veterans to render a military salute to the flag. In the article above I was attempting to briefly outline the change in the law, and the news surrounding it at the time. I have not followed subsequent discussion or controversy. As a veteran, it is your choice to salute the flag with a military salute or by holding your hand over your heart.

    The new law (Public Law No. 110-181 changes Section 9 of title 4, 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.”

    The change that permits veterans to render a military salute to the flag does not affect how you fly the flags at your home.

    Thank you for writing,
    Deborah Hendrick

  3. Mike Hite says:

    I an a Viet Nam era veteran (by definition an old guy) and I applaud the change to the law. The hand salute is the greatest honor bestowed within the military and I will proudly show that honor to my flag and my country. It makes my years in the Air Force just a little more meaningful now that I can now do this. Thank you.

  4. Thank you writing Mike, and thank you for serving the United States of America.

    I wrote an update to this story October 20, if you want to read it also. I can’t hyperlink from here, but if you’ll copy and paste the url below into your browser, it will take you there, or you can scroll backwards from the last entry on the home page until you reach Oct. 20

    http://www.flagsbay.com/flag/2008/10/20/veterans-salute-the-flag-clarifying-the-change-in-the-us-code/

    Best Wishes, Deborah

  5. [...] I just became aware: Vets now can give the hand salute. Glad this was resolved. See link. The Daily Flag Blog Archive Flag Code change—Veterans can hand-salute the flag [...]

  6. Daren says:

    As a civilian and member of the “never having served” I too have felt the need and desire to render a hand salute at the flag that so many have served under and paid the ultimate sacrifice; to those who deserve such respect.

    Having been in uniform from about age 8 (as a scout) until age 17 (in ROTC and like units), I learned to respect the flag, display, post and treat it properly and learned about what it represents. From about age 12 through my last years in high school, I rendered a hand salute whenever the colors were passing whether I was in or out of uniform, yet as a civilian, I now am unlawfully doing so?

    I don’t claim to have given to my country as much as those who have served and I don’t want to take away from them in the slightest. I believe a hand salute is the ultimate sign of respect for someone but also something that I value and respect with the understanding of what it took to keep old glory flying free.

    I asked a former command sergeant major whether he thought I should salute the flag and he said to do it with pride. Until I am otherwise admonished, I do so out of respect for my protectors past and present and the freedom, liberty and security for which it and they stand. So I may be the only person not having served that will render that salute proudly and if restricted not to do so, silently and virtually.

  7. Stan Drew says:

    Until they start shooting at Boyscouts…consider yourself admonished!!!

  8. OIF Vet says:

    I 2nd that. The change to the law doesnt make it unlawful, it was never authorized and I am dumbfounded that a CSM would tell you otherwise. I was a scout and in JROTC, befor I was old enough to join. Saluting in uniform with those organizations is fine. But you are not a veteran because you were in ROTC and as you may respect it and think you understand you can not possibly understand until you serve. If you have enough honor to want to salute the flag then go down to the recruiters office and earn the right. This stikes me the same way as kids that wear dog tags but have never been in the service. If you want the respect and honor to do certain things then go earn it.

  9. S. Armstrong says:

    What strikes me as ironic is that there seems to be so much controversy over who may and who should, vs. who may not and should not among men and women who fought to protect our freedom! Does being free mean that I have the right to do those things of which you approve, but should refrain from doing those things of which you do not?
    As a retired senior noncommissioned officer, it is not for me to say whether it is “right’ or “wrong” for someone over whom I have no direct military authority to salute the flag, wear their clothing or pick their nose. I fought for your freedom to make that choice for yourself. I may not like the way you choose to honor the flag (or not honor it), but that is one of the side effects of freedom – individual choice.
    As for me, I’m not aware of there ever having been any legal restriction on my saluting the flag while in civilian clothing. I have been doing it since I retired in 1996, and will continue doing so, whether someone else likes it or not! That, my friends, is a tiny part of what we fought for.

  10. Dean says:

    I have not served and wish I would have but I really want to salute the flag in honor of my father and uncle that were veterans of WWII that are no longer able to. Is that wrong for me to want to do that in honor of them and all servicemen?

  11. Jay says:

    Dean…Read the post by OIF Vet…there’s your answer. US Army Retired

  12. Signal Soldier says:

    Good info on this posting. I saw the arguement in the thread to follow. For those who argue about who can salute the flag, I posted a copy of exactly what the US Flag Code says. This is a Federal Government document so this is officially how we handle saluting the flag. If civilians want to salute, recruiters are easy to find, trust me!!! Otherwise, the correct way to render respect to the flag is as follows:

    Sec. 9. Conduct during hoisting, lowering or passing of flag

    -STATUTE-
    During the ceremony of hoisting or lowering the flag or when the
    flag is passing in a parade or in review, 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.

    -SOURCE-
    (Added Pub. L. 105-225, Sec. 2(a), Aug. 12, 1998, 112 Stat. 1498;
    Pub. L. 110-181, div. A, title V, Sec. 594, Jan. 28, 2008, 122
    Stat. 138.)

  13. Thank you Signal Soldier!

  14. Thursk S. says:

    I couldn’t be prouder to hear the hand salute for veterans is now authorized. I may not originally be from the USA, but I’ve served in the US NAVY for 4 1/2 yrs (and I’m hoping I can get back in soon.) I also thank all the men and women who have and currently serve in the US Military for everything they have done and continue to do. I’ve met a couple survivors of the Bataan Death March and their families, while serving on board USS Bataan (LHD 5) and honestly it was one of the coolest experiences while on board. To Daren: If you wish to render a salute to the flag then salute proudly, regardless of what anyone says. (And that’s coming from a former E-3 in the US Navy.)

    A Proud Sailor!!

  15. Gerald Box says:

    I have always wanted to salute the flag, but i knew i could not because i was not in uniform. I got out of the Navy back in 1969 as BT3 E4. I will now proudly salute the flag as a vet. to honor all the men and women who are serving and have before and to my country that is the greatest country on the face of the earth. And God Bless.

  16. Hawaii Coastie says:

    I’m glad that the Flag Code has changed. I am active with the Boy Scouts and as such
    see the colors presented at least once a week. I’ve been putting my hand over my heart for
    years now but have always wanted to snap to and salute the Flag.
    I’ve known for years that under the Flag Code you shouldn’t salute unless you were in uniform but always wondered why not. I’m glad I did this Google search and found your website and to know that the code has been changed.
    When I was in the Coast Guard it gave me a sense of pride to salute the flag and I have
    had to restrain myself from saluting ever since being discharged in 1970.
    I thank you for the information and I will now be proudly saluting the flag knowing that’s that it’s within the Flag Code.
    Thanks again

  17. Hawaii Coastie says:

    BTW…Having been in the Boy Scouts or ROTC does not qualify for someone to salute the flag.
    The Flag Code as specified here ONLY allows for active duty servicemen and veterans to salute the flag.
    As such anyone observing will probably incorrectly assume that you are or had served in the military. The Flag Code is not a law but please follow it.

  18. Tom says:

    1. Saluting the Flag is a sign of respect – a good thing.
    2. Allowing vets to salute the Flag honors their service to the Flag.
    3. But if someone who is not a vet wants to salute the Flag as well, see no. 1 above.

  19. Dear Tom—-If I follow your logic, you believe that it is a sign of respect (and thus permissible) to salute the flag with a military salute, even if you are not a veteran. I apologize if I have misunderstood.

    The etiquette and protocol for the American flag was first codified in the early 1920s. By June 1942, six months after the U.S. entered the war, Congress voted to make the Flag Code (with some updates and additions) a law (Public Law 77-623; chapter 435). From the beginning, those who wrote and codified the Flag Code believed that Americans of honor and goodwill would voluntarily abide by the Code, without the need for enforcement and penalty.

    Americans salute the flag in two ways: with a “heart” salute (that’s what I call it), and a military salute. The military salute is a historical, traditional distinction provided for those who are active duty military personnel, and for our veterans (thanks to a recent change in the Flag Code).

    I have spent my entire life saluting the flag with a heart salute and never once did it occur to me that my salute was any less important, respectful, or honorable than a military salute. The Flag Code does not imply that the hand-over-the-heart salute (a “heart” salute) is in any way inferior to a military salute, though the Code always notes the difference.

    In my opinion, saluting the flag with a military-style salute when one is not a member of the military or a veteran, is disrespectful and dishonorable to all Americans—-and the flag. I do make allowance for youthful ignorance, impulsiveness, and enthusiasm, but not forever. Violations to the Flag Code have been upheld by the courts as free speech under the 1st Amendment to the Constitution, but honor and goodwill are a personal attribute.

    I am glad that you wrote to The Daily Flag, and thank you.

    Best wishes,
    Deborah Hendrick

  20. EJRocket says:

    As a veteran, I was glad to hear of the change. I proudly hand salute the flag now myself. To those non-veterans who think they are showing greater respect to the flag, what they are really doing is giving the false impression to those around them they are veterans. If that is not your intent, then stick to the hand-over-heart salute. Veterans who have posted here that it shold be OK for anyone to use the hand salute should be ashamed of themselves. What gives you the right to make that recommendation?

  21. Admiral says:

    Good God Almighty, people! Is it so big a deal how someone shows respect to the National Ensign, when there are so many out there that don’t? Idiots that move, talk and holler out during its parade and posting. Jackasses that hide behind it after they’ve preached against it. Scumbags that use the freedom it stands for to burn it on the streets and protest it! We see this everywhere today. At ball games, school functions, concerts, FUNERALS! I’m retired Navy, proud of my service, and honored to continue to salute. It means a great deal to me. And if anyone asks me how they should render honors, I’ll tell them the correct way. BUT…If a civilian salutes our flag, so what? At least they aren’t spitting on, stepping on or burning it. They may not be doing it right, but they ARE showing their respect!

  22. Admiral says:

    Good God Almighty, people! Is it so big a deal how someone shows respect to the National Ensign, when there are so many out there that don’t? Idiots that move, talk and holler out during its parade and posting. Jackasses that hide behind it after they’ve preached against it. Scumbags that use the freedom it stands for to burn it on the streets and protest it! We see this everywhere today. At ball games, school functions, concerts, FUNERALS! I’m retired Navy, proud of my service, and honored to continue to salute. It means a great deal to me. And if anyone asks me how they should render honors, I’ll tell them the correct way. BUT…If a civilian does salutes our flag, so what? At least they aren’t spitting on, stepping on or burning it. They may not be doing it right, but they ARE showing their respect!

  23. Jim says:

    If you are saluting the flag and you are not an active duty serviceman or veteran you are wrong. It repulses me to see the NFL et. al. not have basic respect and training but as for those on this site if you are saluting and not authorized to do so you you are lessening the contributions and sacrifice true veterans and service members made. As a disabled vet I have, literally, skin in this game. I have friends abandoned and lost on fields of honor. The hand over heart salute is a salute for civilians. Use it! If you want to do a military salute, join the military!

  24. Eric says:

    Jim, Thanks for your service. As a veteran, I couldn’t agree with you more!

  25. christopher Blumen says:

    Deborah..re june 30. thank you for that comment. and thank all servicemen and servicewomen for their service to our Nation and for her people. I just attended my brother’s funeral a Purple Heart recipient from Viet Nam…His stepson who was Dishonorablly Discharged from the Army gave a military salute during the playing of Taps…oh boy did a lot of the Veterans in the crowd cringe…needless to say that some things never change…I was in Boy Scouts and saluted the flag when I was in uniform now that I am a non military civilian I give my respect in the manner I was taught by my deceased Ret. Army Major (30 yrs.) father…Proudly hat off hand over heart.

    Christopher Blumen.

  26. Thank you for writing, Christopher. I am sorry for your loss. We must always teach our children how important it is to salute, by holding a hand over the heart. Best wishes, Deborah Hendrick

  27. Tom says:

    My question is: Is it Ok for a veteran to leave their cap on during the hand salute to the flag if it has Viet Nam or such on it? Thank you!

  28. Yes. A veteran may salute on all appropriate occasions, with or without a cover, regardless of what is on the cover (indoors or outside, too).
    Thanks, Tom, for writing, and best wishes. Deborah Hendrick

  29. Tom says:

    Thank you so very much. My husband is a Korean & Viet Nam vet. He is retired from USAF. We go to a senior center each day for lunch. He keeps his cap to salute our flag. One man there keeps nagging him about that. Of course my husband does it for spite, if nothing else.

    Is him doing that one of the “appropriate” times? Neither of us would never do anything that is not right to our flag.

    One other question, the center has our flag on a wall with a wooden frame around it. Is that Ok?

    Thank you!

  30. Yes, saluting the flag while “covered” at the senior center is ok. Here’s an easy way to remember: On the same occasions where you would have saluted the flag while in uniform, as a veteran you are now permitted to salute in plain clothes, covered or uncovered, indoors or outdoors.

    Regarding the framed flag: the Flag Code says ” … It [the flag] should never be festooned, drawn back, nor up, in folds, but always allowed to fall free.” So flags are to be attached at the hoist side, to be flown on a flag pole, or suspended/hung with the hoist side up, or flat against a wall with the star field to the upper left as you face it, and attached at the top, but with the bottom unattached so it is free and can flutter. Flags are often flat framed if they are old, or to protect them for some other reason. We routinely retire old flags, but sometimes we want to save them. Imagine if someone had retired the “original” Star-Spangled Banner that flew over Ft. McHenry! And of course people frequently put folded casket flags in a wooden and glass box, or a frame of sorts.

    But I do think that a flag that is regularly used for “honors” should be a flag that is not enclosed, but it permitted to hang and flutter freely. If the flag at the senior center is so old it needs to be framed, then it probably needs to be boxed or retired, and replaced with a new flag. I personally love it when the flag is suspended in the hoist position, along with the state flag so they can flutter along the fly edge. I like that better than putting them on a flag staff in a floor mount. But that’s just me—and not every location has room to suspend the flags.

    For your convenience, I am including links to the U.S. Flag Code, and the National Anthem Code.

    Flag Code: http://uscode.house.gov/download/pls/04C1.txt
    National Anthem Code: http://uscode.house.gov/download/pls/36C3.txt

    I hope this helps. Thank you for writing.
    Best wishes,
    Deborah

  31. K says:

    I saluted at my church the other night in honor of a wife who lost her husband in Afghanistan. I also saluted during the National Anthem. I was in plain clothes. We had ROTC and VFW there. I always salute my flag, and have been doing so since I got out of the Air Force in 1984. I am also female. We do not get recognized by our male counterparts. I was ignored by the older VFW men, all the while they were getting hand-shakes and tears. What really bothers me is that I am 100% disabled and I have served more time than a lot of these VFW men. I have also noticed when I go the Veteran’s Hospital, some men ignore me in waiting rooms. Also, for every one person on the battlefield, there are five people behind them supporting in different capacities. Please recognize women and those who were supporting our men and women during wartime and peacetime.

  32. K—I am so glad that you wrote. I wish I had some great insight to encourage and comfort you. Our women veterans have been overlooked too long, though this present war is making them more visible. I know you can’t go around telling everyone you meet that you are a veteran, but if you are not a member of a VSO (veterans service organization) then I hope you will think about joining one. I used to volunteer with two different VSOs on community projects, and the men I knew would have sincerely welcomed you. In particular, there are VSOs for women veterans, though I am sure you are aware of them. There may be more women like you—near to you—than you ever suspected; I hope so, and I hope you find them.
    Sincerely, Deborah Hendrick
    deborah@flagsbay.com

  33. K says:

    Deborah,
    Thank you for responding. I have been praying about what to do with my time and I keep coming back to “working with Veterans” maybe this is what I need. I will do some check into these types of organizations. Thank you for this website. in is very informative.
    Blessings
    Kim

  34. Kim, please stay in touch. I want to know how things for out for you. There may be some much needed one-on-one volunteer opportunities for you at the VA hospital where you go for your care. Good luck and best wishes, Deborah

  35. Kim says:

    Deborah,
    Thank you and I will stay in touch. You can find me on Facebook at Kim Gault Dean.
    Blessings
    Kim

  36. Kim says:

    Deborah,
    You can find me on Facebook at Kim Gault Dean. I’ll stay in touch.
    Blessings
    Kim

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