May 24th, 2013
04:14 PM ET
11 months 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. Barry Sharp

    Obama looks gay, he is on the lowdown, the way he runs up the steps, too stupid for school.

    May 25, 2013 12:44 pm at 12:44 pm |
  2. Steve

    A handshake and greeting is more personal.

    May 25, 2013 12:44 pm at 12:44 pm |
  3. Rosslaw

    This is the definition of a slow news day.

    May 25, 2013 12:45 pm at 12:45 pm |
  4. Les

    Talk about the lack of news worthy articles. Just for the record, I am a Republican as well as a disabled Iraq combat veteran. I do not wholly support the democrat parties ideas, nor do I wholly support every Republican statement. With that said, I think that the President showed incredible respect for the military and the Marine Corps Corporal by realizing that he had not returned the hand salute. He immediately disembarked the aircraft and offered his handshake in both an apology and in respect. If you have never served in the military, then be quiet. I can not tell you how many times I have been in my own thoughts, worries and oblivious and forgot to either salute or return a salute. It was not out of disrespect, it is called "LIFE" President Obama has served the Military well. His policies with the Veterans Administration are positive. If everyone cares to remember, President Bush forgot to salute the Marine standing at the foot of the stairs to Marine 1. After he realized the exact same mistake, he disembarked and saluted the Marine. The handshake or salute was given out of respect. For those that have never made a mistake, I salute you.

    May 25, 2013 12:45 pm at 12:45 pm |
  5. Doug Hayes

    As a veteran I feel the president, a civilian regardless of the moniker of "Commander and Chief", saluting a military member is an affectation pandering to the uninformed masses. My feeling is the president should quietly say "Carry On" to military members who are correctly saluting him and not perform a salute that appears to me a show for the media circus that surrounds the office. Even with that point, as the Marine Commandant remarked to the President Reagon, as Commander in Chief the president has the right, but not the requirement, to salute as he wishes. As far as a handshake – that is a personal sign of respect from one individual to another. If I was the Marine with whom he shook hands I would feel honored.

    May 25, 2013 12:47 pm at 12:47 pm |
  6. Robert A. Flutie

    Despite my thinking he's the worst political figure in America's history, I can't understand why this is news worthy. Let's stay focused on the actions that he's taking that have a real and lasting effect on our democracy (spending, government control, Benghazi, Michelle Obama's hair cut, etc.).

    May 25, 2013 12:47 pm at 12:47 pm |
  7. Michael M.

    As a Marine veteran I feel that it's an indication (and direction) of our country. Words such as honor, tradition and respect are traits that shaped our country, but are quickly becoming an afterthought. Faux pas, or otherwise, a Marine is taught to render a proper hand salute as a sign of respect. The receiver of this salute should feel honored, and recognize/acknowledge the salute during the act, not after. We should not accept, excuse, or allow mediocrity. President Obama is our Commander-in-Chief, and for this, he has positioned himself to always be in the (worlds) public eye. Which means, wherever he is, whatever he's doing, he IS the United States of America. He represents each and every one of us, and should lead with protocol, and by example.

    May 25, 2013 12:49 pm at 12:49 pm |
  8. neverworezubaz

    Civilian control over the military: What does it mean?

    /less difficult than understanding magnetism

    May 25, 2013 12:49 pm at 12:49 pm |
  9. Joe

    Some people are uninformed. Officers always salute back to their subordinates. It is a gesture of respect and homage. So he should salute back.
    Like Craig though, I'm no fan of Obama but I don't think he did it intentionally. He probably has other things going on his mind.

    May 25, 2013 12:49 pm at 12:49 pm |
  10. neverworezubaz

    What do I think? This article is a waste of bandwidth.

    May 25, 2013 12:50 pm at 12:50 pm |
  11. John

    President Obama, is the Commander in Chief. As a former Marine, I would be honored if the President of the United States wanted to shake my hand.

    May 25, 2013 12:51 pm at 12:51 pm |
  12. Lee

    Im so getting sick of this BS, Seems to me Obama is a huge target. Its also clear to me that the Republicans have have issues with losing the election, twice. They have no one to blame but themselves. Lets pick on Bush and his ability to not be able to speak a sentance without messing up, and his two stooges Cheney and Rove talk about total idiots, They are the reason this country is such a mess. All three of them should be in federal prison.For war crimes . No one could of messed up this country as much as they did. Yet the republicans do not want the focus on that, THey are only interested in bashing Obama, I will vote Democrat again, and again and again, I will never trust the republicans ever again never

    May 25, 2013 12:52 pm at 12:52 pm |
  13. Willard

    @Helen, I'm inclined to think you would blame Bush and say it was OK if Obama was to beat a senior citizen to death with a dead baby.

    As for giving him a break? He's been given every break in the book. He's also taken every advantage he could and is doing his best to make the USA a third world country.

    May 25, 2013 12:53 pm at 12:53 pm |
  14. Darren

    OMG Mr. President did salute when he was almost in Marine One. Also he went back down to shake the Marine's hand. As a Marine, I would have appreciated the handshake a whole lot more anyway! Even the Marine smiled. There wouldn't have been no facial expression if there was a salute by the President.

    May 25, 2013 12:53 pm at 12:53 pm |
  15. Ernst

    Hand shake is the best thing to do. Is a sign of respect!! Good job Mr president.

    May 25, 2013 12:56 pm at 12:56 pm |
  16. California

    He didn't see him he said! lol this guy can't stop lying about anything and everything. Just tell the truth man!!!'

    May 25, 2013 12:57 pm at 12:57 pm |
  17. John Riley Goldsmith

    The President does not have to salute anyone or return their salute. President Woodrow Wilson made it a point not to salute anyone at anytime for any reason. After the Civil War, famed Confederate General Robert E. Lee gave up saluting and made a point of never marching in step with anyone.

    May 25, 2013 12:59 pm at 12:59 pm |
  18. CharlesAHI

    Although he is the Commander-in-Chief, the President is a civilian and as such is not supposed to salute anyone.

    May 25, 2013 01:02 pm at 1:02 pm |
  19. Norm

    Reagan's arrogance in thinking he was part of the esteemed military without ever earning the right to salute.
    Obama is correct. Reagan was an actor.

    May 25, 2013 01:03 pm at 1:03 pm |
  20. Peter

    In the military one does not salute if one is not wearing a hat. The President as a civilian commander in chief is free to do as he wishes.

    May 25, 2013 01:04 pm at 1:04 pm |
  21. Jim

    Much like the Marine holding the umbrella last week, this in and of itself is not much of a story. G.W. didn't salute once because he had a dog in his hand. He immediately went to the Marine afterwards and did salute then. I will not believe the President "Didn't see him." There is always a Marine at the bottom of the stairs.

    May 25, 2013 01:04 pm at 1:04 pm |
  22. Brad

    The President is a civilian. He is not military personnel. He isn't required to salute. More dumb reporting from CNN.

    May 25, 2013 01:04 pm at 1:04 pm |
  23. Bill

    In a related story the President accidentally continued to use his salad fork, instead of his dinner fork, while eating dinner later that evening. This president has no regard for traditional standards and should be impeached. That's what electing a liberal president will get you. I'm joking by the way.

    May 25, 2013 01:05 pm at 1:05 pm |
  24. jackola

    Not a story.

    May 25, 2013 01:05 pm at 1:05 pm |
  25. blackbeard79

    I agree with the above comments. This should only be a 'story' on Fox News. As a 16 year (and counting) vet, I can say that a handshake is a more personal acknowledgement than a salute, and is certainly more than is expected or required.

    May 25, 2013 01:07 pm at 1:07 pm |
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