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. ed dugan

    Oh boy, all of those "super patriots" now have something to do other than look for his birth certificate. The economy is improving, unemployment is down, the war is winding down and the Republicans are desperate for any miniscule issue that will give them a chance to open their mouths and change feet. The most pathetic bunch in the history of the US!

    May 26, 2013 09:37 am at 9:37 am |
  2. Rick N

    Presidents decision.

    May 26, 2013 09:39 am at 9:39 am |
  3. cw

    And having just skimmed some of these comments here – it's clear that the nutjobs are out in force.
    (a) He's not in the military even though he's CIC;
    (b) He acknowledged and corrected his mistake, which is bigger behavior than the entire GOP and most of you teapublican idiots;
    (c) claiming that Obama hasn't done anything to create jobs, etc just shows how woefully ignorant of the FACTS (look them) you really are – thanks for making our point yet again.

    May 26, 2013 09:50 am at 9:50 am |
  4. Daniel

    This is not news....it's over analyzation. I bet that marine was glad to get a handshake....it's more personal than a salute.

    May 26, 2013 09:55 am at 9:55 am |
  5. Peter Hsu

    The president did the right thing to go back and offer a handsake to the Marine. As to what should president do when he is being offered a salute, I don't think the president should return the salute like another member of the military. Afterall, even the presdient is the commander-in-chief, he is still a civilian. Thus a military salute is not proper. A military salute is a show of respect between military personnel, even though they may be from different branches, or different countries. But a handshake is alsoat time not practical . What if thousands of soldiers offer their salute during a parade? Maybe a civilian salute like placing hand on heart???

    May 26, 2013 09:56 am at 9:56 am |
  6. Dan

    I'm surprised he got back off the helicopter. His standard protocol when he makes a mistake is to ignore it or blame someone else.

    May 26, 2013 09:56 am at 9:56 am |
  7. Peter Hsu

    The president did the right thing to go back and offer a handsake to the Marine. As to what should president do when he is being offered a salute, I don't think the president should return the salute like another member of the military. Afterall, even the presdient is the commander-in-chief, he is still a civilian. Thus a military salute is not proper. A military salute is a show of respect between military personnel, even though they may be from different branches, or different countries. But a handshake is alsoat time not practical . What if thousands of soldiers offer their salute during a parade? Maybe a civilian salute like placing hand on heart???

    May 26, 2013 09:56 am at 9:56 am |
  8. Dood

    I'm not a fan of his politics but my goodness, maybe he was preoccupied with all the scandals lately. I don't say that to be cheeky, but at least he remembered the Marine and went back to make amends. Even *I*, who didn't vote for him either time, would give the guy a break here.

    May 26, 2013 09:57 am at 9:57 am |
  9. Dr Matrix

    As a veteran I have always disliked the idea of a President who hasn't served saluting. It is a military way of showing the pecking order. I can only think of 3 Presidents in the last 60 years who served in the military and the last one left office 21 years ago.

    May 26, 2013 09:59 am at 9:59 am |
  10. ABarker

    Benghazi, IRS, AP, voter fraud, obamacare, 16+ trillion debt, 47+ million on welfare, lies vs. a forgotten salute? This conservative isn't worried about a forgotten salute.

    May 26, 2013 10:00 am at 10:00 am |
  11. Grwohio

    I am no fan of this president but this seems like a non story. Reminds me of something the press would cover for a republican president.

    May 26, 2013 10:05 am at 10:05 am |
  12. humtake

    I think a handshake shows more respect than a salute, so what is wrong with this? A salute is one military person doing what he is supposed to do to a higher ranking officer. There's nothing personal or respectful about it. Shaking someone's hand, especially if it is the President doing it, is by far a more respectful gesture.

    May 26, 2013 10:07 am at 10:07 am |
  13. gordyb

    why is this even in the news?

    May 26, 2013 10:07 am at 10:07 am |
  14. wadesworld242

    To the person saying Obama didn't know because he rarely rides on Marine One: uh, what planet do you live on? Obama rides Marine One constantly, like every president does.

    Obama should salute. He is the commander-in-chief of the armed forces, whether he likes it or not. The marines expect their commander-in-chief to return their salute, not shake their hand. Shaking their hand is uncomfortable for them. They have to come out of their attention stance. It's just awkward.

    With that said, it's pretty clear from the video that Obama's mind was on other things. He realized his error and fixed it, even if awkwardly. It's not a big deal. Obama has far more things about which he can be criticized.

    May 26, 2013 10:07 am at 10:07 am |
  15. katie

    Todd

    "President's did not salute till Reagan – The President is a civilian, as it should be.." Then why the heck is he Commander in Chief of the Armed Forces?

    May 26, 2013 10:08 am at 10:08 am |
  16. wadesworld242

    To the person saying Obama didn't know because he rarely rides on Marine One: uh, what planet do you live on? Obama rides Marine One constantly, like every president does.

    Obama should salute. He is the commander-in-chief of the armed forces, whether he likes it or not. The marines expect their commander-in-chief to return their salute, not shake their hand. Shaking their hand is uncomfortable for them. They have to come out of their attention stance. It's just awkward.

    With that said, it's pretty clear from the video that Obama's mind was on other things. He realized his error and fixed it, even if awkwardly. It's not a big deal. Obama has far more things about which he can be criticized.

    To those of you saying people should lay off Obama, guess what? It goes with the territory. You call every republican president every name under the sun if they so much as sneeze. Don't dish it out if you can't take it.

    May 26, 2013 10:09 am at 10:09 am |
  17. Dan

    As a civilian, He hasn't earned the right to salute.

    May 26, 2013 10:10 am at 10:10 am |
  18. Bob Roy

    Surely we have important things to consider and debate. This issue is a total waste of time.

    May 26, 2013 10:10 am at 10:10 am |
  19. clem238

    Bush couldn't put together two sentences, but no one seemed to care. Not the repubs anyway, he's like a god to them, although HE put us in debt, NOT Obama !

    May 26, 2013 10:16 am at 10:16 am |
  20. may40

    He commanded a marine hold an umbrella for him last week & this week he refuses to salute. I am convinced this president HATES our military & our country.

    May 26, 2013 10:22 am at 10:22 am |
  21. stan

    yawn. is this really news.

    May 26, 2013 10:25 am at 10:25 am |
  22. Anil Kumar

    Yourspersonally,

    Handshake seems more personal, than a salute specially in this case where it is a single Marine

    May 26, 2013 10:26 am at 10:26 am |
  23. Will

    He is the commander in chief. He can salute or shake hands or tell the marine to polish his shoes. FOX 'news' can go jump in a lake.

    May 26, 2013 10:30 am at 10:30 am |
  24. W H Coxwell

    What important thing has he ?

    May 26, 2013 10:30 am at 10:30 am |
  25. Jennifer Connelly

    Blah, blah, blah. Considering what the president has on his plate at present, is it any wonder he was a little distracted when boarding the helicopter. I think he handled it very graciously and appropriately. That young marine has his chiseled face and smile in every major print and online news agency in the world. I don't suspect he minded at all and I'm sure his friends and family were bursting with pride over the encounter.

    May 26, 2013 10:30 am at 10:30 am |
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