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. Tenie

    Forgot, yeah right.

    May 26, 2013 08:15 am at 8:15 am |
  2. TewksburyBob

    I do not like the guy but he is the President. If he choses to salute, fine. If he shakes someone's hand fine. Both are a sign of acknowledgement and respect. This is not a news item.

    May 26, 2013 08:15 am at 8:15 am |
  3. pres

    He salutes at 00:19

    May 26, 2013 08:16 am at 8:16 am |
  4. Bob

    He has to be in the military uniform, wearing the hat to salute. Handshake is the right choice.

    May 26, 2013 08:18 am at 8:18 am |
  5. j

    Hell yes he should salute he is commander in chief right

    May 26, 2013 08:20 am at 8:20 am |
  6. Matt Bodkins

    I think people are funny, although some responses aren't so pleasant. After five years in the Army, I can assure you there was no "slight" if a salute wasn't given back. The pres obviously had a lot on his mind, however, went back out and made the connection more personal. By the smile he recieved from the marine, I'd say he was more than happy. I think the suggestion to get on card board and break dance would work though!L) Slow news day.........agreed!

    May 26, 2013 08:20 am at 8:20 am |
  7. Chris

    Maybe if the republicans would focus on a jobs bill and Vets job bill this would not be news..Yeah they really care about our vets...Not a damn thing wrong with a hand shake..More personal....

    May 26, 2013 08:22 am at 8:22 am |
  8. Barbara K.

    As can be seen in the video, Obama also saluted the pilots, not just shook their hands. He may have forgotten to salute the marine on the lawn, but going back out and shaking his hand I thought must mean more to the soldier than the quick salute of a commander with much on his mind. I thought it was a generous thing to do.

    May 26, 2013 08:25 am at 8:25 am |
  9. George Rhodes

    The Marine saluted the President and the salute wasn't returned; that is a major sign of disrespect. What do you think would have happened if the Marine didnt render the saluted? The President's disdain for the mi.itsry is palpable, even as he sends them to die in Afghanistan. Any President who doesn't return a salute at wartime, as Commander in Chief, doesn't deserve to be President.

    May 26, 2013 08:46 am at 8:46 am |
  10. Peggy Sue

    In my small way of thinking President Obama can do as he pleases, shake hands or a salute is his right for he is the Commander and Chief of these United States, after all.

    May 26, 2013 08:46 am at 8:46 am |
  11. George Rhodes

    The Marine saluted the President and the salute wasn't returned; that is a major sign of disrespect. What do you think would have happened if the Marine didnt render the salute? The President's disdain for the military is palpable, even as he sends them to die in Afghanistan. Any President who doesn't return a salute at wartime, as Commander in Chief, doesn't deserve to be President.

    May 26, 2013 08:49 am at 8:49 am |
  12. Lauratp

    Civilians handshake all the time. It's ordinary. A salute shows more of an upward expression of respect, which this man clearly lacks for our military or this country. His mouth may utter one thing but his actions tell the full story. This man could put a for sale sign on the white house lawn and many so called Americans would still support him. He basically has done such in so many ways yet the hand is still out waiting to be filled . With free phones, money housing, healthcare . Amongst other things. Americans are basically slaves to our socialist country only without any work expected.

    May 26, 2013 08:56 am at 8:56 am |
  13. Noel

    So much fuss about nothing!

    May 26, 2013 09:00 am at 9:00 am |
  14. Mo

    I doubt the Marine will suffer any lingering trauma. In the Presidents defense, he was probably just momentarily distracted with all the scandals his administration is trying to cover up.

    May 26, 2013 09:02 am at 9:02 am |
  15. Vad

    Good. Obama never served in the military and shouldn't salute.

    May 26, 2013 09:02 am at 9:02 am |
  16. Chris Koffend

    Sorry, this is not newsworthy.

    May 26, 2013 09:06 am at 9:06 am |
  17. cass2277

    I love an appreciate our military as much as the next person. However, this is a tradition, not a requirement. I think it's irrelevant for the President to salute members of the military – do we walk around saluting to them when we see them in uniform? Nope. In my opinion I think it's more inappropriate for a person who has never served in any branch to salute our servicemen and women.

    May 26, 2013 09:06 am at 9:06 am |
  18. tokio

    i mean...who really cares if he salute or not he's the commander of all..yall white folks find anything to say about the man..as long as the man do his job..so what...he'll if he want to hit a back flip pass the guard it's cool wit Me...as long as he protect our country.....yall worried about the wrong thing...what yall need to b worried about is nada doin it's job to protect us from dat big rock heading towards earth dat could wipe out man kind.....read people read

    May 26, 2013 09:09 am at 9:09 am |
  19. Mark

    Never ceases to amaze me how many excuses the dems and libs make for this inept administration.

    May 26, 2013 09:10 am at 9:10 am |
  20. nancy hammond

    It's called respect. Obama has no respect towards the men who protect this country. I salute all the military...

    May 26, 2013 09:13 am at 9:13 am |
  21. MarineVet357

    This is a non-story. It was a mistake that was corrected. We all have made mistakes in our lives and hopefully we corrected and learned from them. To politicize and criticize the President for this simple mistake is more of a lack of dignity and respect than the original error itself.

    May 26, 2013 09:19 am at 9:19 am |
  22. hyaphilo

    Well...when the President realized that he forgot to salute the marine, and then bounded down the helicopter steps to shake his hands, maybe he should have followed the handshake up with a salute. Problem solved :)

    May 26, 2013 09:23 am at 9:23 am |
  23. ceaser

    Reagen is not the President
    In my opinion a salute is only reserved for soldiers and honors them as such,
    while a handshake honors the man and is a sign of personal respect.
    Had the President been a soldier I would kind of expect,in a time of war,that he would salute but he was not therefore I have no problem with the more personable handshake.

    May 26, 2013 09:26 am at 9:26 am |
  24. Forsan

    Maybe, this is another story the Snake Issssssssa can investigate, since he is unable to govern.

    May 26, 2013 09:29 am at 9:29 am |
  25. Anonymous

    He forgot tosalutenhim, so he came back and shook his hand. What's the big deal?

    May 26, 2013 09:29 am at 9:29 am |
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