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. Anonymous

    This story has been running for three days now and three quarters of you never even bothered to read the article before commenting? Tsk. Tsk.

    Half way through the article is this gem: "But to not salute is not a break in protocol or a violation of any rule."

    May 26, 2013 10:34 am at 10:34 am |
  2. Jenny

    O'Bummer does not even deserve to stand in the presence of a Marine OR the graduates of the Naval Academy..he is a joke!! get him out of here

    May 26, 2013 10:34 am at 10:34 am |
  3. LivinginVA

    "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."

    Reagan and Bush both had military folks hold umbrellas for them – I bet most Presidents have.
    Eisenhower did not return salutes when he was President.

    Did they hate the military & America?

    May 26, 2013 10:35 am at 10:35 am |
  4. chiapasdude

    Neochristian Fox News Obamahaters look for any excuse to bash the President. Saluting or shaking hands is his option.

    Get a life and do something positive and productive for a change.

    May 26, 2013 10:37 am at 10:37 am |
  5. stephanie montey

    Im not saying im a fan of obama! But seriously i think we are just trying to find any reason to critize our president. Yes he didnt salute but he still showed respect by shaking his hand. No matter what he does people will find fault and critize.

    May 26, 2013 10:40 am at 10:40 am |
  6. Larry

    the President is in the chain-of-command of every commissioned and enlisted person serving. Therefore, it's more likely that military protocol require service members to salute the president as being the top of his or her command chain. I don't think it matters whether the president is civilian or not.

    May 26, 2013 10:44 am at 10:44 am |
  7. Crocker

    This doesn't surprise me from a President who never served. He has minimum knowledge of military protocol. You get what you vote for......

    May 26, 2013 10:45 am at 10:45 am |
  8. northerstar

    I would appear that Obama decided to shake hands with the crew on this day: he started with the highest ranking (pilots) and then returned outside to shake hands with the young marine. It was likely to celebrate Memorial Day. Get over it.

    May 26, 2013 10:53 am at 10:53 am |
  9. Pete

    Can posters here quit nitpicking the president even on supposid dos and don'ts of saluting or hand shakes!!!It's his call as Commander in Chief and if he thinks he's being grateful,thankful to a marine for his service in shaking his hand,well be it!Cut the crap republicans if that's all you got because he's your president and you posters like him or not should give him respect as president which you haven't from day one!!Remember the elections are over,you lost!!

    May 26, 2013 11:01 am at 11:01 am |
  10. Stephanie Jean

    Give me a break. The man's a snake. Of course he apologized because he knew the REAL Americans recognize it for the slight it is. He has no respect for this country or Christian fundamentals–the very principles this country was founded on. He's failed to participate in the pledge, he screws the military personnel at every opportunity and has no respect for them. He's a freaking puppet. His mouth moves and once in a while he might say a few correct words but he doesn't mean them.

    "My friends, we live in the greatest nation in the history of the world. I hope you'll join with me, as we change it."– Barack Obama

    And boy has he done a ban-up job throwing us into debt. He's awesome. NOT

    May 26, 2013 11:03 am at 11:03 am |
  11. Animal

    Nothing like having no respect for our military service members. A salute is supposed to be returned.

    May 26, 2013 11:05 am at 11:05 am |
  12. Bob

    Military protocol is for junior military to salute senior officers, and hold their salute until the senior officer returns his. This process normally is automatic as shown with the pilots, who if Naval officers wouldn't happen as they salute only when "covered" [wearing a "hat" which is not allow3ed when indoors] so salutes are only required when outdoors.

    The presidents since Regan have done this except as far as I can tell this moment only for Obama, who ha an awful lot to think about, but still remembered to go back and shake hands, probably apologizing for not returning the salute.

    May 26, 2013 11:10 am at 11:10 am |
  13. Steven

    At least he's not trying to read a book upside down..

    May 26, 2013 11:11 am at 11:11 am |
  14. Once a Marine...

    It is not a Marine's job to be honored and protected. A Marine's job is to honor and protect. All Marines wish they had the job of this Marine. He is selected above his peers to stand this post. He is honored just to be there. It is the job of all uniformed Marine's with cover to salute all Officers and Colors not cased. Enlisted Marines salute Officers. Junior Officers salute Senior Officers. Officers in uniform return the salute. Officers not in uniform acknowledge the salute either verbally or in gesture. A simple "Good morning Marine", or "Good afternoon" or nod of the head is appropriate, yet not mandatory. There is an hierarchy at work here. Marines do not get insulted. Had the President not returned to shake his hand this Marine would not have batted an eye. He is not allowed to. The U.S. Marines have a long and illustrious history for being the most feared fighting force the world over.This history was paid for through many a strife and the ultimate sacrifice of many American Heroes. This Marine is wearing the uniform of those before him who paid that price. He knows he is now paying the price for the Marines who will follow in his footsteps. Marines have so much to live up to, to suggest he would be insulted over an alleged miscue, would be the insult to all who have paid the price. The fact that the President of the United States of America, walked back off the aircraft to acknowledge the Marine was an even greater honor not just for this Marine, but for all Marines past and present. This is a tribute to the greatness of this President. This is something Marines embrace. Just as they embraced a simple statement by another great President, "Some people wonder all their lives if they've made a difference. The Marines don't have that problem." -The Honorable Mr. Ronald Reagan

    If you don't know what it is to be a Marine, then you are likely not a Marine. And yes, Marines hold umbrellas for their Commander in Chief.

    Memorial Day is to honor all those who paid the ultimate price. Not to honor the rest of us who are trying to live up to that sacrifice. Have a Happy Memorial Day! Our Heroes wanted it that way.

    May 26, 2013 11:14 am at 11:14 am |
  15. brian sites

    I am sure it's George Bush's fault.

    May 26, 2013 11:16 am at 11:16 am |
  16. Darren

    Right on Will, your correct.
    Ed"The economy is improving, unemployment is down, the war is winding down" Where the 7734 do you live. economy IS improving, for some and that at a snail pace. Way to slow to help matters all that much. Unemployment is down because so many peep are NOLONGER able to collect anymore of it. So, their not counted. The Unemployment Rate, is guaded off of how many peep are collecting it. NOT by how many are truly Unemployment or Underemployment. Its a false stat. Go try finding a 40 hr/per week job. There far and few between. Most jobs in Kentucky only will give you 36-38, No Health Care, No Unemployment Insuracne, nothing, just $8-$10 per. Some explane to me how things are getting better. Sure the war is"winding down" and two more are heating up. But, heres the problem. Its not just Obamas fault. Its yours and mine, its every card carrying, voteing or non voteing persons fault. We have set on our collective butts and allowed the control of our government to slip out of our hands. And the bad thing about, its going to get worse.

    May 26, 2013 11:16 am at 11:16 am |
  17. McRCN

    Article contains errors. The President is actually returning the salute. The lower ranking military person salutes first and the higher ranking person returns the salute. Also, the military guards are enlisted and not military officers.

    May 26, 2013 11:18 am at 11:18 am |
  18. al

    It looks too political and patronizing to salute a soldior when not in uniform.

    May 26, 2013 11:19 am at 11:19 am |
  19. IkeShip

    Dr. Matrix? Really? 60 Years and only 3 Presidents who have served in the Military? 60 years ago was 1953. So we begin with the count from there. Former Military members only: Dwight Eisenhower-5 Star General (Army), John Kennedy-Lt (Navy), Lyndon Johnson Cmdr (Navy Reserve), Richard Nixon Cmdr (Navy), Gerald Ford Lt Cmdr (Navy), Jimmy Carter Lt. (Navy), Ronald Reagan Capt.(Army Reserve), George H W Bush Lt. JG (Navy), George W. Bush 1st Lt (Air Force). I count 9, three times more than your poor historic memory can attain.

    As for the salute: The President should not salute, he is not a military member, but an overseer of the military. Also, you only salute when in uniform and since the President does not wear one, he/she should not salute.

    May 26, 2013 11:20 am at 11:20 am |
  20. Rico Suave

    He wasn't to pre-occupied to give a friendly glance to the camera. AND, he is not just a civilian, he is the President of the United States and Commander in Chief. It is Memorial Day weekend that honors all of our military for their service and it is not so much that he didn't salute, it is the total dismissal of the Marine's presence. So all the hypocritical Obama supporters, stop making excuses and apologies for him. This was wrong.

    May 26, 2013 11:20 am at 11:20 am |
  21. The King

    I wonder if the repubs understand how the 24×7 stream of right wing propaganda has undermined their ability for rational, logical analysis regarding President Obama. I saw the same thing with President Clinton. They hate these guys so much they literally can't think straight.
    I can't wait until President Hillary takes residence in the White House.

    May 26, 2013 11:22 am at 11:22 am |
  22. AndyDaniel

    It says good things about this man that some people have to resort to this for finding fault with him.

    May 26, 2013 11:25 am at 11:25 am |
  23. Hugh

    Being a Marine and having a small amount of knowledge of military protocol I submit. We were taught that if you are in uniform and see a superior officer/commander etc in civilian clothes you should salute him, his obiligation was to not hand salute you, but to nod his head as acknowledgement that he knew that you rendered him the honors he was due.
    If you were in civilian attire and met a superior officer/commander(in uniform or not) and recognized him you were supposed to nod your head in acknowledgement of his rank/position. Since Reagan was only a movie star military person I'm quite sure any tradition he started was out of ignorance. I have always thought it was wrong for presidents to salute as they are in civilian clothes which is out of protocol.

    May 26, 2013 11:29 am at 11:29 am |
  24. Just

    This POTUS has no respect for any American tradition or culture. Who would expect anything different than the latest incident. His handlers are what caused him to go back to the marine, it wasn't any other gesture.

    May 26, 2013 11:33 am at 11:33 am |
  25. Solomon Walker

    Unforgiveable.
    I'm not going to share what I think that marine ought to have done when he realized he was a merely a second thought.

    Impeach the gum-chewing, disgusting piece of crap.

    May 26, 2013 11:37 am at 11:37 am |
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