I never ceased to enjoy reviewing our men and women in uniform and hope I started a new tradition for presidents. As commander in chief, I discovered it was customary for our uniformed men and women to salute whenever they saw me. When I'd walk down the steps of a helicopter, for example, there was always a marine waiting there to salute me. I was told presidents weren't supposed to return salutes, so I didn't, but this made me feel a little uncomfortable. Normally, a person offering a salute waits until it is returned, then brings down his hand. Sometimes, I realized, the soldier, sailor, marine, or airman giving me a salute wasn't sure when he was supposed to lower his hand. Initially, I nodded and smiled and said hello and thought maybe that would bring down the hand, but usually it didn't. Finally, one night when Nancy and I were attending a concert at the Marine Corps headquarters, I told the commandant of marines, "I know it's customary for the president to receive these salutes, but I was once an officer and realize that you're not supposed to salute when you're in civilian clothes. I think there ought to be a regulation that the president could return a salute inasmuch as he is commander in chief and civilian clothes are his uniform." "Well, if you did return a salute," the general said, "I don't think anyone would say anything to you about it."
The next time I got a salute, I saluted back. A big grin came over the marine's face and down came his hand. From then on, I always returned salutes. When George Bush followed me into the White House, I encouraged him to keep up the tradition.
Courtesy of Simon and Schuster
Just for contrast, another version of same story by MSM....
The New York Times
April 14, 2003
A Senseless Salute
By JOHN LUKACS
Soon after Ronald Reagan assumed his presidency, something new appeared
with his image on the television screen. When given a salute by
uniformed military personnel, Mr. Reagan would return it, shooting his
right hand up to his bare head, his smile suggesting that this was
something he liked to do. This unnecessary and unseemly habit was
adopted by Mr. Reagan's successors, including Bill Clinton and
especially George W. Bush, who steps off his plane and cocks a jaunty
This gesture is of course quite wrong: such a salute has always required
the wearing of a uniform. But there is more to this than a decline in
military manners. There is something puerile in the Reagan (and now
Bush) salute. It is the joyful gesture of someone who likes playing
soldier. It also represents an exaggeration of the president's military
In the past, even presidents who had once been generals employed
civilian manners. They chose not to emphasize their military
achievements during their presidential tenure — in accord with the
American tradition of the primacy of civilian over military rule. Of
their constitutional prerogatives these men were of course aware.
Lincoln would dismiss and appoint generals, and Truman knew that he had
the right to fire MacArthur. During World War II, while Churchill often
wore a uniform or at least a military cap, Roosevelt remained
determinedly in his civilian clothes. Indeed, none of the presidents who
governed this country during its great wars defined themselves as
commanders in chief — not Washington, not Lincoln, not Wilson, not
Yes, Section 2 of Article II of the Constitution says: "The president
shall be commander in chief of the Army and Navy of the United States,
and of the militia of the several states, when called into the actual
service of the United States . . ." Thereafter that very paragraph lists
other presidential powers that have nothing to do with military matters.
The brevity of the mention of a commander in chief — it is not even a
full sentence — suggests that the country's founders did not attach
very great importance to this role.
But about 20 years ago the militarization of the image of the presidency
began. It started with Mr. Reagan, who had no record of military service
and who spent World War II in Hollywood (something that he tried on
occasion to obscure). There were his fervent, sentimental and sometimes
tearful expressions when meeting or speaking to American soldiers,
sailors and airmen. There was, too, his easy and self-satisfying
willingness to employ the armed forces of the United States in rapid and
spectacular military operations against minuscule targets and "enemies"
like Grenada, Nicaragua and Libya. President Bush, too, enjoys immersing
himself in the warm bath of jubilant approbation at large gatherings of
Like the boy soldier salute, the sentimentalization of the military is
juvenile. Television depictions of modern technological warfare, for
example, make it seem as if a military campaign were but a superb game,
an occasional Super Bowl that America is bound to win — and with
almost no human losses. ("We'll keep our fighting men and women out of
harm's way" — a senseless phrase that emerged during the Clinton
years.) The exaggerated vesting of the president with his supreme role
as commander in chief is a new element in our national history.
When the Roman republic gave way to empire, the new supreme ruler,
Augustus chose to name himself not "rex," king, but "imperator," from
which our words emperor and empire derive, even though its original
meaning was more like commander in chief. Thereafter Roman emperors came
to depend increasingly on their military. Will our future presidents?
Let us doubt it. And yet . . .
John Lukacs is author, most recently, of ``Churchill: Visionary,
Copyright 2003 The New York Times Company
R.W. "Dick" Gaines
GnySgt USMC (Ret.)
1952 (Plt #437)--'72
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