The Silver Salute

The informant is a military veteran who served for thirty seven years. He retired a two star major general, a veteran of World War II, Korea, and Vietnam. His decorations include the Distinguished Service Medal with oak leaf cluster, the Silver Star Medal, the Defense Superior Service Medal, the Legion of Merit with three oak leaf clusters, the Bronze Star Medal and the Purple Heart Medal with oak leaf cluster. He is a Master Parachutist and served in the 503rd Parachute Infantry and the 187th Regimental Combat Team.

The overview of the tradition is that when you are first commissioned and graduate from whatever training or academy you attend, the first enlisted man to salute you must be payed a dollar–usually a silver dollar.

“Informant: Well, there’s one, uh, for example. When you are first commissioned, you give a, uh…the first salute that you receive, you give that individual that salutes you a dollar. Usually a silver dollar.

Interviewer: And why is that exactly?

Informant: Uh…nobody knows

Interviewer: (Laughter) Just a tradition?

Informant: Right. Well, in fact, some officers would, uh, stand by the side of the road as the newly commissioned would be leaving and he would…he would salute every one of em’ and make them get out of their cars and pay him a dollar. I had to set him straight so  traffic could keep moving”

Although the informant claims not to know the reason or origin of this tradition, it seems to fit Arnold Van Gennep’s theory of rites of passage being a source of tradition. Before being commissioned, these men did all of the saluting and were never saluted back by their higher-ranking officers. After making to second lieutenant, they have crossed the liminal point to where they have now earned the respect of being saluted by enlisted men. The paying of the dollar is a reciprocal sign of respect which commemorates the first time being saluted by an enlisted member. By going through the process of paying the saluter instead of just returning the salute, the moment is made more memorable and meaningful.