American Traditions and Gestures Explained

Whenever you visit a new country, do you love learning about all the customs of a new culture – even if they seem a little odd at first? Something equally interesting is learning about how the citizens celebrate their love and respect for their country. Some of the ways we show respect for our country may seem different to those who visit the United States, but perhaps a few explanations can help curb the confusion. But visitors aren’t the only ones who may be confused. In fact, when it comes down to the details of even our most pervasive traditions, many Americans don’t know why we do them. For example, do you know why American Soldiers salute with their palm facing down? Or why you place your hand over your heart during the Pledge of Allegiance? Find out what it means when you participate in these American traditions!

The US Military Salute: What It Means

Why Do Soldiers Salute with Their Palm Face DownYou’ve probably seen American service men and women salute time and time again, but do you know how it call began and why they continue to do it today?

It is believed that the military salute, placing a hand to the brim of the hat or forehead, originated in Medieval England. Knights raised their visors so that their leaders and fellow knights could see their faces when giving or receiving orders or when talking to each other. During the Revolutionary War, soldiers were required to remove their hats when talking to their officers and leaders. However, soon their hats became more elaborate and harder to take off swiftly, so touching a hand to the brim of that hat became the saluting custom.

Soldiers in the U.S. military are required to salute with their right hand unless they are holding the flag with it, in which case they salute with their left. Saluting with the palm facing down originated in the Navy, when the palms of the soldiers saluting their officers were dirty due to work on the ship. Saluting with a dirty hand was considered an insult, so in order to show respect, the soldiers turned their palms downwards.

The Pledge of Allegiance: How It Started

If you grew up in the United States, you probably started each school day off by saying the Pledge of Allegiance. Americans learn and memorize the words to this pledge at a very young age. But who wrote this pledge, and how has it changed over time to shape America?

Francis Bellamy wrote the Pledge of Allegiance in August 1892 and it was first published in the Youth’s Companion, a children’s magazine. When Bellamy first wrote it, it read, “I pledge allegiance to my Flag and the Republic for which it stands, one nation, indivisible, with liberty and justice for all.” He didn’t make reference to a specific country because he hoped it would be a pledge used to salute flags in countries all over the world. In 1923, the words were changed to “I pledge allegiance to the Flag of the United States of America,” making the pledge specific to the U.S.

The words, “under God,” were added by President Dwight D. Eisenhower in 1954. Communism was an ever-present Why Do You Put Your Hand On Your Heart During the Pledge of Allegiancethreat during that time, and President Eisenhower wanted to make it clear that the American nation believed in God. After he signed the bill finalizing the change, President Eisenhower said, “From this day forward, the millions of our school children will daily proclaim . . . the dedication of our nation and our people to the Almighty . . . In this way we are reaffirming the transcendence of religious faith in America’s heritage and future; in this way we shall constantly strengthen those spiritual weapons which forever will be our country’s most powerful resource, in peace or in war.”

When the pledge was first written, Bellamy instructed that citizens reciting the pledge should begin with a right-
handed military salute, and after saying “to the flag,” should extend their arms towards the flag. Shortly after the original pledge was written, it was decided that citizens would start with their right hand over their hearts and then extend their arms. The tradition was changed once again after World War II when it was believed that extending the right arm towards the flag looked too much like the Nazi salute, and it was decided that citizens should place their right hand over their hearts while reciting the whole Pledge of Allegiance.

The American National Anthem

Finally, think about the national anthem, the Star-Spangled Banner. From ball games to Boy Scouts, this song is played often throughout this nation and nearly every American knows its revered lyrics. How did this song come to hold so much meaning?

Francis Scott Key, an American lawyer, wrote the national anthem on September 14, 1814. America was in the midst of the War of 1812, and the British were attacking Fort McHenry on the coast of Baltimore. Key was in a boat approaching the bay when he saw the fire of the battle lighting up the night. When morning finally came, and the smoke started to clear, Key saw the American flag flying above the fort, signifying that the Americans had won what would be known as the Battle of Baltimore. Relieved and proud to see his country’s flag, Key poured out his thoughts on paper in a poem called “The Star-Spangled Banner.” Not only did the words of his poem become the American National Anthem, the title of the poem became a popular nickname for the country’s flag.

Today “The Star-Spangled Banner” is sung during religious programs, ceremonies, sports events, and countless other gatherings. While singing or listening to the national anthem, citizens place their right hand over their heart and face the flag. The right hand is placed over the heart for both reciting the pledge of allegiance or singing the national anthem as a sign of love and respect for the United States.
Low VA Rates is proud to serve those who salute, pledge, and sing their allegiance to our country through their selfless and loyal military service. Without you, we wouldn’t have these traditions today! We why we try to help in the best way we know how – right at home. For more information on how we can help you secure a VA home loan, or to contact us, please visit our website, at

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