In my blog of 4 March 2022, I mentioned that I am reading a book called What Did You Do During the War Sister? (Dennis J. Turner, Cincinnati: Cincinnati Book Publishing, 2nd ed., 2020) I commend it to you. Well, I have about concluded the read and have found many interesting references that concern not only my own holocaust research, but also those that criss-cross experiences in my own life. This convergence is about salutes.
The setting is 4 August 1944 in Namur, Belgium where the city was enjoying its first brief breath of temporary liberation. The fictional character Sister Christina recounted an amusing rapport between nuns and the American soldiers. She wrote: “It was the custom in those early days of the liberation for sisters to exchange salutes with the soldiers. The soldiers might wave at civilians, but rarely salute them. For some reason, they enjoyed trading salutes with sisters and nuns. When a sister was spotted on the road by one of the soldiers in a truck, he would alert his comrades to be ready to salute. … So I was not surprised when I heard a boyish voice call out, “Hello, sister!. …I tried to duplicate their crisp, military salute and offered a prayer for their safety.” (165)
Given the circumstance, there is something special about the sincerity and formality of a salute. I emphasize the circumstance because we all probably have in fun mimicked a military salute or received one. I suspect there was some fun in nuns saluting soldiers and vice-versa, but the image of it made me think of the one time in my whole life when I was officially saluted. I was in Rome with my nephew to celebrate his Confirmation and one of the days of the trip included a papal audience.
We were nearing the Paul VI Center and approached a member of the Swiss Guard. All of a sudden, he saluted me! I was caught by surprise, but to this day I remember how the salute raised me self-esteem to the level of pride.
There are many types of salutes. One of the most interesting salutes that no longer exists with such nomenclature is the Bellamy Salute. Below in the photo taken in 1941, you will easily why the salute was banned on 22 December 1942.
This salute to the flag accompanied the pledge of allegiance, written by Francis Bellamy and was common in circa 1890s through 1942. The Bellamy salute was mistakenly copied from the so-called Roman salute. Unfortunately, this salute was invented by artists and film writers; There is no physical evidence that Roman soldiers ever used such a salute. No matter because it was also picked up by the Nazi party. Obviously, the flag salute as it was used in the United States sparked controversy and Congress abolished its use and replaced it with a hand positioned over one’s heart while reciting the pledge to the flag.
Something similar, but coincidental sometimes occurs when members of a church congregation are invited to join in a blessing. To the untrained eye, such a blessing can look similar to the Bellamy salute, the Roman salute or the Nazi salute. This was called to my attention by a visitor to and observer of one of the liturgies where I presided. I did not invite the congregation to raise their hands, but in some communities, it was taught and encouraged somewhere along the line of preceding clergy and so whenever I would raise my hands in a blessing, the community would automatically follow suit. Of course, no Nazi affiliation was intended, but as our guest kindly pointed out, it could be construed to look to be so to the unknowing eye.
Akin to this…the priest clearly holds two hands up and open while some of the schoolgirls mimic with one hand in various unintended poses.
My sincere salutations, without a hand gesture, to you!