I once had a conversation with a woman who had a PhD but absolutely no knowledge about anything connected with military life. When I mentioned this, she mentioned that she had watched M*A*S*H.
One of the biggest misconceptions that lifelong civilians have about the military is that they suppose them to be absolutely servile in the presence of higher authority. This is not the case.
There’s a great story about the Marine general named Louis “Chesty” Puller. The story goes that, one day, an enlisted Marine failed to salute a Marine lieutenant. To which the lieutenant ordered the Marine to salute 100 times. “Good morning sir, one! Good morning, sir, two!...”
A crowd joined to see what was happening and none other than Chesty Puller appeared. When the lieutenant explained that the private had failed to salute him and he had taken corrective action by forcing the man to salute him 100 times, General Puller said, “Well, young man, you were certainly correct in taking action. However, lieutenant, you are aware that every salute rendered must be returned. So why don’t you both start over?”
“Good morning, sir, one!”
“Good morning, Marine, one!”
I recently heard a similar story from a retired Marine friend of mine who had served as the administrative NCO of the Marine detachment at the Defense Language Institute in Monterey, California. The DLI has a heterogeneous population of all four services and the ranks range from junior enlisteds training for the intelligence branch to senior officers who are about to do a tour as military attaches. One day, my friend, who at the time was a mere staff sergeant, noticed that a full colonel in the Air Force failed to return his salute. (At this point, my readers who are acquainted with the guy are already chuckling.) He is a very big man with a much bigger voice. This was even before he got voice training as a drill instructor. As the “zoomie” colonel walked past, my friend held his salute, pivoted 180 degrees and said in a voice which I’m sure carried from one end of Monterey to the other, “Excuse me sir, but in the Marine Corps, we were taught that all salutes must be returned.”
A very chastened and flustered Air Force colonel returned his salute. Apparently, he made quite an impression on the man because any time that colonel saw my friend, he returned salutes at Mach speed. Indeed, my friend comments that one time the man held his salute so long that he had to say, “Excuse me, I can’t drop my salute until you drop yours.”
For the benefit of lifelong civilians, if an officer fails to return a salute and the base commander hears about it, that is a serious breach of protocol indeed. A repeat of such an incident could end a man’s career.