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. LivinginVA

    "Please....that's almost as bad as asking the guy to hold an umbrella for him!"
    You mean like Bush and Reagan both did? Or is it only bad when Obama does it?

    May 25, 2013 07:32 pm at 7:32 pm |
  2. expresseers

    My take as a former marine this. Fix that cover (hat) marine! Very poor ...that's the way a boot would wear it
    Bad bad bad.

    May 25, 2013 07:35 pm at 7:35 pm |
  3. Frank Zderic

    Congratulations to you the media! You are officially more beneath contempt than even politicians for bothering anyone with such trivial nonsense. How about doing something worthwhile like reporting REAL news.

    May 25, 2013 07:37 pm at 7:37 pm |
  4. Georgia from Pa.

    This poor president is damned if he does and damned if he doesn't. Anyone bother asking the Marine what he thought of by being singled out by our President for a warm handshake? Bet it will be the first story he tells his grandkids. why don't the elephants and tea baggers get passionate about really important matters- like how to stuff a sock in Sarah Palin's mouth.

    May 25, 2013 07:39 pm at 7:39 pm |
  5. Cut this crap out

    Maybe next time you'll make an issue over whether he crumples or folds his toilet paper!!!!!!!!

    May 25, 2013 07:40 pm at 7:40 pm |
  6. winslow

    Ok enough is enough. The person of lesser rank SALUTES his superior. The superior ranking person RETURNS the salute.

    May 25, 2013 07:44 pm at 7:44 pm |
  7. Will Smith

    He came back only because he realized he forgot to salute the Marine, and he just got reamed in the press for looking like an idiot by having another Marine hold an umbrella for him when it was raining. He cares not for our military, only what he perceives his image to be. In other words, he is clueless...

    May 25, 2013 07:45 pm at 7:45 pm |
  8. Nino Dagostino

    He did right to go back and shake the hand of this young Marine Salute or touch the hand of the President both are exempliary. People who criticize the event you are not perfect. You are just picking a bone where there are no bones to pick.

    May 25, 2013 07:51 pm at 7:51 pm |
  9. Ed

    Who cares. Obama is a POS either way.

    May 25, 2013 07:52 pm at 7:52 pm |
  10. Mark

    When I was an enlisted man in the USAF, it was an honor when a commander shook your hand as it was a sign of his respect to you individually. President Obama's handshake was honoring that Marine personally. I am sure that the Marine was pleased.

    Our President is a human being. He made an error and then did his best to correct it. We ALL make mistakes. How we handle them says a great deal about us. I believe that at least in this incident, President Obama did very well.

    May 25, 2013 07:53 pm at 7:53 pm |
  11. ramiro

    People really care about to much. Obama obviously ran back to shake the marines hand. if he doesn't have to salute then why is there even a "debate." Honestly the newsroom people should go back to twiddling there fingers, idiots.

    May 25, 2013 07:53 pm at 7:53 pm |
  12. Kelly Kent-Parcell

    I don't think a president should salute an officer of the military unless he, himself, served in the military. But anyway, who cares about him not saluting, Where are the jobs he promised and what is he doing to cut the deficit? No jobs and the deficit is double that of G. W. Bush's deficit.

    May 25, 2013 07:54 pm at 7:54 pm |
  13. Bill

    As a veteran of the United States Army and a veteran who was deployed to Bosnia, Iraq and Afghanistan, I could care less if the Commander-in-Chief salutes every soldier he sees, or doesn't salute every soldier he sees. I remember when former President Bush came and visited us, he didn't salute us and we didn't salute him and guess what? Nobody cared! To be perfectly honest, if I was that Marine I would be thrilled to have the President of the United States walk up to me, like he did in the video and personally shake my hand...

    May 25, 2013 07:57 pm at 7:57 pm |
  14. Drew

    As a person who generally disagrees with President Obama's policies, these stories are getting ridiculous. I am also an OEF and OIF vet, and do not find this story to relevant to the mans ability to lead. So what if he didn't salute, he stilled showed his appreciation through other means. Lets not focus on the little details of his presidency that are truly irrelevant to his ability to perform his office. This type of nitpicking is just silly and immature. While I am not an advocate of his, he is still the leader of our nation and as such will always have support because the office of the president is bigger than the man who holds it.

    May 25, 2013 07:58 pm at 7:58 pm |
  15. ramiro

    Btw a handshake is better than a salute. With a salute you could be dealing with a whole group of people, he gave one handshake to one person. Also I love how the comments with impeach Obama have not even a first name with the comment, scarred little ones...

    May 25, 2013 08:00 pm at 8:00 pm |
  16. Anonymous

    LC:
    You're full of it. No previous President has show more respect for our military than President Obama. What could be more respectful than the Commander and Chief coming back off the plane to shake your hand.

    Duke#4:
    Stick it! Talk about a lack of respect.

    Sam H. Caudle

    May 25, 2013 08:00 pm at 8:00 pm |
  17. ira420

    I really think the marine at guard should have been saluted. I was a marine and theirs nothing more gratifying then your top of the list commander in chief saluting you. He probably caught the marine off guard but i know marines and he would have respected the President a lot more for walking right up to him and saluting. I mean are my men really fighting for this guy to walk right past a marine who's job is to care for the president at all cost? NO!!! You respect your marines Mr. President and before you enter that helicopter you salute that marine and ask about how things are real quick. A little respect for the men you like to use for umbrellas when its raining out side. Mr. President A LITTLE RESPECT PLEASE I think my brothers have earned it.

    May 25, 2013 08:00 pm at 8:00 pm |
  18. Anonymous

    As commander in chief it should be his option.

    May 25, 2013 08:02 pm at 8:02 pm |
  19. mike farmer

    oh dear, nother scandal???

    May 25, 2013 08:03 pm at 8:03 pm |
  20. Anonymous

    he forgot, and showed some class by coming back out.

    May 25, 2013 08:16 pm at 8:16 pm |
  21. sciline

    I have known several CO's with far too much on their mind, who failed to return my, and many of my fellow Marine's, salutes. I see no crime of snub involved in such an unconscious oversight.

    May 25, 2013 08:17 pm at 8:17 pm |
  22. diannee3

    Don't you have anything better to report on like the March on Monsanto?

    May 25, 2013 08:18 pm at 8:18 pm |
  23. MARVIN O. WILHITE

    damn right .. he is the commander in chief of our armed forces...
    military protocall and THE UCMJ requires salute , junior military personnel to senior and a return of the salute......

    May 25, 2013 08:18 pm at 8:18 pm |
  24. Sandra

    This is such a non issue. President Obama isn't the first non-military to not salute. And all the Obama haters, where were you want President Bush assaulted the German Chancellor?

    May 25, 2013 08:20 pm at 8:20 pm |
  25. Mike

    As a Marine Veteran and Republican, I can tell you that this is not worth the discussion. I did not vote for the President but he did nothing wrong here. Move along everyone.

    May 25, 2013 08:25 pm at 8:25 pm |
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