One minute, 28 seconds

  • Published
  • By Arlan Ponder
  • 49th Fighter Wing Public Affairs
On Veteran's Day, I was attending a school program that was filled with pride and honor, as well as reverence for American veterans. Though I am a veteran, I didn't sit with my fellow brethren from Desert Storm, Vietnam, Korea and World War II. Instead I chose to sit with several friends in the stands amongst the next generation of Airmen, Soldiers, Sailors and Marines.

When the time came for the playing of the national anthem, which takes one minute and 28 seconds, I stood with the rest of the crowd and watched as some of the adults removed their hats and placed their hands over their hearts. I also observed a majority of the students follow suit. However, sadly, there were a few adults and students who failed to place their hands over their hearts or remove their hats. There were also numerous students who could barely stand still, while a few proceeded to clap their hands with each symbol crash.

Having been raised in a family filled with military heritage -- my paternal grandfather was a World War I veteran and my maternal grandfather, who raised me, was a World War II veteran -- I was taught at a very young age what is expected during that one minute and 28 seconds.

However, according to a 2004 Harris Interactive survey, nearly two out of three Americans are unable to recall all of the words to "The Star-Spangled Banner," and I'm sure not many students are taught what the United States Code (Title 36, Ch. 10‎) says about proper etiquette during the playing of the national anthem.

According to the Code, during the national anthem, when the flag is displayed and persons are not in uniform, they should stand at attention facing the flag with their right hand over their heart. Men not in uniform should remove their hats and place them over their heart. When the flag is not displayed, all present should face toward the music and act in the same manner they would if the flag were displayed.

The Air Force Professional Development Guide states all personnel in uniform and outdoors upon the first note of the national anthem should face the flag, or the sound of the music, and salute. They should hold the salute until the last note of the music is played. Members in formation will salute upon command of the person in charge.

In October 2008, the law was changed to allow veterans and active-duty military not in uniform to render the military-style hand salute during the playing of the national anthem and during the raising, lowering or passing of the flag.

The salute, whether it be a military-style or the hand over the heart, is considered a unique gesture of respect that marks those who have served in our nation's armed forces, but more importantly to me, it acknowledges the sacrifices made by Americans to ensure that we maintain our freedom.

I recently read an article about the sacrifices made by American families during our wars or conflicts. Of the 10 most famous wars and conflicts -- Revolutionary to our current operations in Afghanistan and Iraq -- over 1.28 million Americans have made the ultimate sacrifice in combat. This doesn't count the number wounded who died at a later date, nor does this count the smaller "wars" or "skirmishes" the United States has taken part.

I realize some people consider the whole process a bunch of silly symbolism derived from previous years when times were simpler and the world was much smaller. Fortunately, we live in a free country where people who fail to show patriotism are not routed to the nearest re-education camp or sent to the Gulag, however, I believe every American should take the one minute and 28 seconds to stand and pay their respect to those who came before us.

We veterans do stop and render our respect because we know for that short amount of time the national anthem is playing there are Airmen, Soldiers, Sailors and Marines in places, where some Americans can't even pronounce the name, that are hoping they will have the opportunity to one day stand in a Veteran's Day program and render a salute for one minute and 28 seconds.