02/13/2014 10:39 am ET Updated Apr 15, 2014

A President Who Salutes Others


On the eve of a weekend celebrating President's Day, it's nice to remember a President who didn't celebrate himself, as so many have. A President who saluted others -- especially the men and women in uniform.

President Ronald Reagan, unlike most other Presidents, was ever reluctant to talk about himself. He frequently used "we." He seldom said "I."

And he loved -- boy, did he love! -- saluting the troops.

After the October 1986 Reykjavik summit collapsed, he came to the U.S.-NATO facility at Keflavik to thank the 3,000 men and women in uniform. "Ladies and gentlemen of our Armed Forces, on behalf of a grateful Commander-in-Chief, I salute you." Despite their having waited seven hours in a huge hangar -- because Reagan's summit with Mikhail Gorbachev went into sudden-death overtime -- the place shook with an ear-shattering roar.

His mention of saluting led Reagan into what he did naturally. "I can't resist telling you a little story," he began, that "has to do with saluting."

When he "got this job" -- when he became President, and starting flying aboard Air Force One and Marine One, he was eager to salute the soldiers as he boarded and disembarked.

Yet he had been taught--when he was "a second lieutenant of the Horse Cavalry, back in the World War II days"--that it was improper for anyone not wearing a uniform to salute. It was in this month, February 1935, when Ronnie Reagan enlisted in the U.S. Army Reserve -- at a time very few men enlisted, in the interwar period of the 1930s, and far, far fewer from the entertainment industry.

Having gone from private to Commander-in-Chief, Reagan missed saluting.

As he recalled at Keflavik, one evening he was at the Marine Commandant's quarters in Washington "getting a couple of highballs and didn't know what to do" since apparently everyone there was reluctant to approach him.

So he strolled over to the Commandant and said, "'Look, I know all the rules about saluting in civilian clothes and all, but if I am the Commander-in-Chief, there ought to be a regulation that would permit me to return a salute.'"

The Commandant replied with what Reagan in Iceland called "some words of wisdom. He said, 'I think that if you did, no one would say anything.'"

Ever after that night, he happily saluted the troops.

He would surely do so this President's Day weekend, even while most others would be trying to salute him as President.