May 24th, 2013
04:14 PM ET
1 year ago

To salute or not? Obama's handshake sparks debate

(CNN) – Fans of "The West Wing" remember well the fake President Josiah Bartlett's advice when boarding the presidential helicopter, Marine One: duck.

He might easily have offered this advice as well: salute.

Those who closely watch the president's every step and gesture noticed Friday he didn't salute the Marine standing guard at the foot of the chopper's stairs. After boarding and then shaking hands with the pilots, he quickly exited the chopper, and offered a handshake to the Marine at the steps, then returned for the short ride to Annapolis, Maryland for the United States Naval Academy commencement.

It's become tradition for presidents to salute the military officers he encounters when boarding the official helicopter, a tradition which is widely understood as begun by President Ronald Reagan in 1981.

But to not salute is not a break in protocol or a violation of any rule.

Nor was it likely a slight to the military. After all, Obama told the graduates in Annapolis later Friday morning, "Today we salute all the Americans who made the ultimate sacrifice in these wars, including 18 graduates of this Academy. We honor them all, now and forever."

The tradition is believed to have been started by Reagan. The story goes that he consulted the Marine Corps commandant who "told the president that as commander in chief he could salute anybody he wished," Smithsonian Magazine editor Carey Winfrey wrote in the New York Times.

It's not thought that President Dwight Eisenhower, who attained the rank of five-star general prior to his election and was the first commander-in-chief to ride a helicopter, saluted his pilot, and those before him would not have had the chance.

A hallmark of the U.S. military is that it is overseen by a civilian commander-in-chief. Some suggest the presidential salute to the troops is a sign of respect; others say it is not customary to offer a salute when out of uniform, and a sign of the over-militarization of the presidency.

And while the helicopter's rotor blades aren't spinning when a president approaches, there is still a reason for him to duck. It's to avoid hitting his head on the door opening which is a little low. (That noise you hear in the video is the auxiliary power unit on the helicopter running ahead of engaging the rotors.)

What do you think? Should the president salute the troops? Add your comments in the space below.


Filed under: President Obama
soundoff (1,580 Responses)
  1. Martin

    I think that saluting should be reserved for uniformed military personnel. The rank of Commander in Chief isn't a military rank as such but a way of expressing the notion that the military works for, and is subservient to, the civilian government.

    May 25, 2013 02:49 am at 2:49 am |
  2. Stan the Man

    Darrell Issa's next investigation...Salute-Gate.

    May 25, 2013 02:51 am at 2:51 am |
  3. randy

    they can do whatever they please. Next!

    May 25, 2013 02:52 am at 2:52 am |
  4. Forrest Gums

    I think Congressman Issa will launch an investigation, hold hearings, and call for a special investigation to determine if this was part of a continuing effort by the president to undermine the military. Really. this is as newsworthy as the fact that the POTUS has gas after enjoying a large dinner! Move On !

    May 25, 2013 02:54 am at 2:54 am |
  5. Griff

    As an extremely proud member of the United States Navy, as far as I am concerned, I will salute the President of the United States, as they are Commander-in-Chief. Whether the President salutes me back is up to the President; if, in an attempt to remain unmilitarized, the President did not return my salute but simply nodded, I would not feel disrespected. However, I was also raised by a great mother, who taught me right, and so I grew up with the virtue of respect far outweighing the vice of 'selfishness' in the way of my line of duty.

    May 25, 2013 02:54 am at 2:54 am |
  6. John in San Diego

    How can anyone think it was not a nice gesture? A President has a lot on his mind, and to have the kindness to even think about going back to give the young man a polite handshake and give a few kind words, just proves that our President is a good man - whether you agree with his policies or not. I'm sure the young Marines who have the privilege of standing guard at a Presidential helicopter must have excellent performance reviews, so good for this young man to have received a short "meet and greet" by our President.

    May 25, 2013 02:54 am at 2:54 am |
  7. Name Barbara Brown

    Are we Americans ? Sometime I wonder?:-[ we have become a people, who love to SLANDER and KiLL one another with our Tonge! We are ready to attack, kill, steal and destroy a person's character, what ashame, it should not be. And guess what?, you know who is watching our children!, who are growing and developing into a generation who has no Respect for authority, this includes: parents teacher, elders leadrship Think abot it. I'am an Early childhood Educator, from birth to five years and you know what is painful and scary; they, slander, self centered, (which is their nature as they rdepend on mature adults for gudiance), they are very cruel and unkind to one another at such an early age, the Eeginning of Life, they to have no Respect for other's nor do they have respect for Authority! This leads me into my comment about President Obama, should he slaute or should he not slaute?, He is the President, and should be himself, sometime in all of our lives we must make a Gut, compssionate, warm, kind decision; without being underneath the microsope and being watch for the ultimate mistake. Where is the sensitivity , Where is the Wisdom and Knowledge and Understanding about the Powerful. Voltage of a human Touch, Has anyone heard about. Failure to Thrive;i without the human touch the child would fail to grow and develop and would evidently Die. Just a saall Touch/Handshake or a simle Hug can CAUSE AMAZiINNG RESUTS, WOW!

    May 25, 2013 02:55 am at 2:55 am |
  8. vidal808

    What is the Big Deal here? The Repubs and Teabaggers will find something to moan about – go take a hike!

    May 25, 2013 02:59 am at 2:59 am |
  9. Ronney

    no cover/hat = no salute

    May 25, 2013 03:01 am at 3:01 am |
  10. Steve

    I don't think it matters either way. Each president can choose.

    May 25, 2013 03:01 am at 3:01 am |
  11. Bob Friend

    "But to not salute is not a break in protocol or a violation of any rule." – CNN
    You're right. It's not about rules nor protocol, it's about RESPECT.

    May 25, 2013 03:02 am at 3:02 am |
  12. Patrick Gokey

    This is not journalism. This is what I'd expect out of TMZ. Both the author and CNN should be ashamed. I'm former Navy and whether we like it or not, Obama is POTUS. He does not HAVE to salute, and I think personally I'd rather have a handshake anyways.

    May 25, 2013 03:02 am at 3:02 am |
  13. Jim

    What's to say he wasn't thanking that Marine for his dedication and service on this, Memorial Day Weekend, when we should ALL be thanking and helping our living Veterans, and remembering the sacrifices our deceased Veterans paid for our freedom? (It's not just a holiday to have hot dogs and hamburgers, you know....)

    May 25, 2013 03:04 am at 3:04 am |
  14. That's just crazy talk

    If people get worked up over a handshake over a proper salute, they probably need to get a life.

    May 25, 2013 03:04 am at 3:04 am |
  15. He Makes Me...

    what a clod...

    May 25, 2013 03:04 am at 3:04 am |
  16. Steve Bissell

    It's called an "auxiliary power unit (APU)", not an "aerial power unit." And yes I do think the President should salute the troops because the precedent has been set; however, I wouldn't make a big deal out of it either way. He is a civilian. Of course, if he doesn’t, Republicans will say he has no respect for the military, which is not true by any stretch of the imagination.

    May 25, 2013 03:06 am at 3:06 am |
  17. YYJ

    It's up to the president. Saluting shows a professional respect. Shaking hands shows a personable humble respect. Both show respect for our armed men and women who tirelessly protect this country.

    May 25, 2013 03:06 am at 3:06 am |
  18. Eric

    You know what I enjoyed about this? Watching the president forget to salute the corporal, saluting the guys inside, and then remembering he forgot to salute the corporal. So he comes out and shakes his hand as a man and probably explains hey, corporal, sorry I forgot to salute. How awkward would it have been for the president to come back down the steps and, um, hey dude, *salute*. That would have been the John Kerry catching-a-football salute. Dumbest "debate" ever.

    May 25, 2013 03:08 am at 3:08 am |
  19. MYOD

    @andi lee: This is not an Opinion Piece. It is filed under politicalticket.blogs.cnn.com with the author listed as "CNN Political Unit". HENCE, get it right.

    May 25, 2013 03:08 am at 3:08 am |
  20. MB

    Just for background, I'm retired military, and not exactly a supporter of this President, but I would appreciate it if you got your facts straight before posting pieces like this.

    First, the military custom is that the junior ranking individual salutes the senior, and the senior returns the salute as a mutual sign of respect. Not every military member the President runs across is an officer, and generally, he seems to return the salutes of all...both enlisted and officer.

    The Marine outside the President's helicopter is not an officer...he's a Corporal. Within the military, there is an expectation that a salute will be returned by the senior ranking person, but the President is not a military member, so I understand completely if he sometimes forgets. I couldn't make out his comments completely, but it sounds very much like he apologized to the Corporal for not returning the salute when he stepped of the aircraft to shake the Marine's hand. I would say the acknowledgement of his lapse in military customs and courtesies more than makes up for his failure to salute.

    Second, there's no such thing as an "aerial power unit" on an aircraft. Someone must have told you it was an APU making the noise, and you or someone else guessed that APU stands for aerial power unit. It actually stands for auxiliary power unit.

    May 25, 2013 03:10 am at 3:10 am |
  21. oaklandcl

    Here's the thing... He didn't "forget". He knew he was going to shake his hand. As stated in the article about, the Commander in Chief can salute should he choose, or not salute if he chooses as such. The salute is a sign of respect, the return is basically returning that respect. There is a whole back story to the salute, but it's not important to this. In a nutshell, the President felt that a handshake was appropriate, as he was thanking the Marine. Just my thoughts.

    May 25, 2013 03:12 am at 3:12 am |
  22. w1nluv

    He shook his hand, there was no slight.

    May 25, 2013 03:13 am at 3:13 am |
  23. shabba shabba

    Sounds like another Republican "scandal". Quick !!! Somebody call Doral Issa.

    May 25, 2013 03:20 am at 3:20 am |
  24. Former avionicsmen

    (That noise you hear in the video is the aerial power unit on the helicopter running ahead of engaging the rotors.)
    I hate to nitpick, but as a reporter you should strive for 100% accuracy. The correct term is "auxiliary power unit" or APU for short, not aerial power unit

    May 25, 2013 03:22 am at 3:22 am |
  25. MATTHEW CLARKE

    What did he say? Did he say, "Congradulations on your new baby" or "Good luck with your wedding." Or "Good luck with your next assignment" The Pilot told him something....that Marine.........just had a baby or something....what?

    May 25, 2013 03:25 am at 3:25 am |
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