May 24th, 2013
04:14 PM ET
2 years 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. Sharad

    Raegan was an actor....must the rest follow suit?

    May 25, 2013 07:34 am at 7:34 am |
  2. Buddy Riecke

    Since the President is a civilian, a handshake would not only seem acceptable, but a cut above what most people might expect from that high office.

    May 25, 2013 07:35 am at 7:35 am |
  3. The fact of the matter

    "... others say it is not customary to offer a salute when out of uniform," Not customary in that it's not required but it happens all of the time; and it IS a sign of respect. Strangely enough, at some installations it used to be required to salute a car in motion of ot displayed an officer's registration sticker no matter who was driving it; one of the more ridiculous requirements, usually made by the post commander.

    May 25, 2013 07:38 am at 7:38 am |
  4. spud

    I'm no fan of B.O. but that handshake is something that marine will remember for the rest of his life! I'm sure the picture of him shaking hands with the president will be in a frame on his mantal.

    May 25, 2013 07:38 am at 7:38 am |
  5. BOSTON

    Its totally fine, especially if he said "Thank you for your service" wouldn't be the same saying something like that with a Salute....

    May 25, 2013 07:41 am at 7:41 am |
  6. dave hoff

    it is a return salute from the president, a matter of respect.

    May 25, 2013 07:42 am at 7:42 am |
  7. are122

    Probably comes from hosting too many illegal immigrants at the whitehouse.

    May 25, 2013 07:43 am at 7:43 am |
  8. EL

    Ok! So what if he doesn't salute the Marine, it's his perogitive, just so he doesn't bow to a foreign head of state ever again! That disrespects the entire nation, including the Marine!

    May 25, 2013 07:45 am at 7:45 am |
  9. mbrilson

    I am not a fan of this President, but the man realized he made a mistake and returned to apologize and shake hands. Maybe he should have also returned the salute before apologizing, but let's give credit where credit is due. He realized his mistake and attempted to repair the same.

    May 25, 2013 07:49 am at 7:49 am |
  10. Robert Brackney

    Much ado about nothing.

    May 25, 2013 07:49 am at 7:49 am |
  11. P A Buchanan

    If a President chooses to salute or not is not worth discussing...it's his choice. Personally I don't think he should because he's a Civilian and I think saluting should only be between actual MILITARY members

    May 25, 2013 07:53 am at 7:53 am |
  12. Tracy

    Im in the military and would never salute this man!

    May 25, 2013 07:55 am at 7:55 am |
  13. bandito

    I am not an Obama fan but does this really matter? He at least shook the guys hand so either a hand shake or a salute is ok. He choose the handshake. Now lets focus on real policies that matter.

    May 25, 2013 07:55 am at 7:55 am |
  14. J R Brown

    The President is allowed some lee-way in how he addresses the military people he encounters; he is a civilian, after all.

    The atrocious offenses he's actually committing against the interests of this country in the pursuit of his political ideology are of infinite more concern.

    May 25, 2013 07:55 am at 7:55 am |
  15. Will

    That Marine appears to be an enlisted man. Why is this article even written?

    May 25, 2013 07:56 am at 7:56 am |
  16. R Burkett

    I think we worry about the wrong things.

    May 25, 2013 07:57 am at 7:57 am |
  17. RobertL

    A Marine in uniform is going to salute the president. It's as second-nature to us as breathing. The least the president can do is salute back.

    May 25, 2013 07:57 am at 7:57 am |
  18. Marcus

    Salute, shake hands, hug him? Who cares, as long as President Obama acknowledges the man as a human being, I could care less. And yes, I'm a moderate conservative voter.

    May 25, 2013 07:58 am at 7:58 am |
  19. mickey

    i just think he was thanking the marine for his service.

    May 25, 2013 08:00 am at 8:00 am |
  20. Belinda Higgins

    The President is a civilian. He is not required to salute, however, the Marine must salute his Commander in Chief.

    May 25, 2013 08:03 am at 8:03 am |
  21. diane

    as much as I dislike Obama....who cares? Aren't there more important things to be concerned about than whether the president salutes or shakes a hand? He acknowledged the soldier..nuff said.....It is the soldier's duty to salute his commander in chief...the president? no requirement there..JMO

    May 25, 2013 08:04 am at 8:04 am |
  22. Dr Lawrence E Mezza

    It is the military that salutes the President, and other civilian dignitaries, out of respect and by protocol. A return salute by a civilian is unnecessary. As the general said, in this regard, the President, as Commander-in-Chief, can do pretty much as he wishes. So much the better if the public regards the gesture as a return of respect. The fine men and women that wear the uniforms of our country deserve every bit of respect sent their way. That said, is there any doubt that a handshake from the President is something that any serviceman/woman would ever forget?

    May 25, 2013 08:04 am at 8:04 am |
  23. Bones1

    No need to salute

    May 25, 2013 08:05 am at 8:05 am |
  24. PaulB

    Though I'm sure the President meant no harm, a salute is to be rendered back when being saluted. As a soldier, this happened to me by a superior officer. He failed to return my salute. I kept professional and polite but corrected him on not returning my salute. He apologized and returned my salute and then went on his way. This is common courtesy when a salute is rendered to a superior officer. It is military protocol to show respect back to those acknowledging the officers rank.

    May 25, 2013 08:06 am at 8:06 am |
  25. Geoffrey

    I think the POTUS, press, and hopefully most Americans have much more serious issues to address. Geez....

    May 25, 2013 08:07 am at 8:07 am |
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