May 24th, 2013
04:14 PM ET
9 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.

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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. C . K. Justus

    He may have had other things on his mind which he was worried about, but he remembered he did salute and came and I am sure apologize as well as shake the Marine's hand.
    So what is the uproar, does those who want to criticize have nothing to do????

    May 26, 2013 02:35 pm at 2:35 pm |
  2. Cindy

    Obama has made the presidency a joke of course you people are so stupid you think Bill Maher is your best friend. When the next attack happens, I dont want to hear any of you crying about.

    May 26, 2013 02:44 pm at 2:44 pm |
  3. Allen Franklin

    The President of the USA is the elected representative of the people. In a democracy were we treasure freedom of expression, the people and therefore the President can express himself in any civil way he may want. A salute, a
    wave, a handshake, a smile or even a nod, these are expressions of acknowledgment. That we acknowledge one another is more important than the way we may chose to do it.

    May 26, 2013 02:51 pm at 2:51 pm |
  4. Akaej47

    As a Nam vet, many don't even know the protocol in saluting...What the President did , I think it's more respectful by shaking his hand and making it personal....When you salute you respect the rank and not the person and it's not the same thing.I had a Lt , who had no problem letting everyone know he was a member of the KKK and I had to salute him every time , but had no respect for the man....

    May 26, 2013 03:25 pm at 3:25 pm |
  5. mindblastingaby

    I dont think its logical for a senior officer to "give" a salute. He can return a salute when a junior salutes him first – and a junior MUST salute a senior first. If not, why the ranks?!

    When the President comes back out to shake hands with the soldier, it proves that not saluting the first time around was not intended to be a slight.

    Just look at the face of the soldier, he is astounded!! He is like: Oh, Sir. Did i do anything wrong?...!!!!

    May 26, 2013 03:34 pm at 3:34 pm |
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