May 24th, 2013
04:14 PM ET
8 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. Linden Pike

    What an insult! He didn't salute!
    He only shook hands, ran the country, and then told the graduating class at Annapolis that they were following the footsteps of men of honor.
    Push another cheeseburger into your fat mouth and club a witty response with your sausage fingers now.

    May 24, 2013 08:47 pm at 8:47 pm |
  2. gwiz

    it may be an opinion piece but some opinions should be kept to themselves if u spend so much time watching the president not saluting u got problems for whoever spotted this u need ur head checked.

    May 24, 2013 08:47 pm at 8:47 pm |
  3. duaneadc

    I take it as a slight to the military I served 20 years in the US Navy and was saluted by President Reagen and Bush senior. I have seen many examples of President Obama slighting the military, I really believe he has no respect for the military at all!!!

    May 24, 2013 08:49 pm at 8:49 pm |
  4. noly972

    The President is the Commander-in Chief and as such he can salute or not as he wishes. If he chooses to shake hands rather than saluting, that's his option and in either case he's rendering honor. As a civilian (with no military experience) he may feel uncomfortable with saluting and feel more comfortable shaking hands. I can't imagine that any of the Marines felt slighted. If anything, they likely felt highly honored to shake hands with the President – any president. I agree with the writer's comment on the president becoming too militarized. Only part of the job of president is CinC; the President is a civilian and should act like it.

    May 24, 2013 08:49 pm at 8:49 pm |
  5. Rembrant

    Next thing you know is we will criticize how Obama scratches his rear-end. When will we start worrying about important things in this country? Things like: Education, budget, infrastructures, economy, putting the big bankers in prison, gitmo, energy, etc. etc. etc. We are SO far behind, we have SO much to catch up... let's get to work!!

    May 24, 2013 08:49 pm at 8:49 pm |
  6. chris

    you do salute when not wearing a hat , but only when indoors and reporting to a superior officer.

    May 24, 2013 08:50 pm at 8:50 pm |
  7. Jv

    Good thing he knows what hand to put over his heart when the national anthem is played.. Oh what..he didn't know that either ..this guy is should have never been president. At least get the basics down after 5 years...

    May 24, 2013 08:50 pm at 8:50 pm |
  8. Tom J

    I am not a fan of obama in any way, shape, or form; but an article about him not saluting???.......PLEASE. I wouldn't expect someone, who has never served in the military, to salute a U.S. Servicemember. I guess this is just "filler" for the liberal media to keep attention away from important topics that U.S. citizens deserve to know the truth about.

    1. Why didn't the Americans in Benghazi receive help from the U.S. government (even after pleading for it several times)?

    2. Why hasn't anyone been held accountable for denying them help, and allowing them to be killed in vain?

    3. Why were only conservative groups targeted by the IRS; if there was no political influence, or gains expected by the liberals?

    I would like to hear a good answer to the above questions. Not some politically fueled rebuttal, and without the common answer (It's Bush's fault).

    May 24, 2013 08:50 pm at 8:50 pm |
  9. Carrie Ann Golden

    I believe the President acknowledged the young Marine and paid him respect by offering a personal handshake, he did not ignore him nor fail to acknowledge him.

    May 24, 2013 08:51 pm at 8:51 pm |
  10. Leticia Dillard

    Leave the president alone...poor guy..with so many things in his head ..its ok to forget ...and he did after.

    May 24, 2013 08:51 pm at 8:51 pm |
  11. Vashti

    Thy friends do stand by thee, and they shall hail thee again with warm hearts and friendly hands.

    May 24, 2013 08:51 pm at 8:51 pm |
  12. VIP Attendent 1970's

    In my Navy day's of flying vip helo's this happened a lot....their minds are else where...I'm sure he walked back shook his hand and made an apology. Lets hear what was said as he shook his hand!

    May 24, 2013 08:52 pm at 8:52 pm |
  13. Semper Cogitatus

    The funny thing here is Obama was going for what he thought would be a cool photo op, heading back down the stairs to shake the Marine's hand. Major backfire, but certainly no slight intended. He, like most of his political strip, has no understanding of or real respect for the military, but that's to be expected. If he sticks with tradition he'll be fine.

    What's surprising is he, and his people, are usually acutely aware of the politics of every every little thing that happens, of every moment of his life in front of the cameras. That he or his people thought this was a good idea is a little odd.

    May 24, 2013 08:52 pm at 8:52 pm |
  14. riotistx

    Oh no! He still has some humility left!

    May 24, 2013 08:53 pm at 8:53 pm |
  15. Wow1234

    @Rick McDaniel

    "No matter how much you try to make Obama into a President, with your hollow words, he will always fail to make the grade."

    Good laughs – you do realize that he won a second term as the PRESIDENT of the United States???

    May 24, 2013 08:53 pm at 8:53 pm |
  16. NameGrorge

    Really? Is this what we should be worried about? How about working on getting some meaningful work done instead of this kind of crap!

    May 24, 2013 08:54 pm at 8:54 pm |
  17. peter pook

    I think President Obama is a class act. I believe he is thoughtful in what he does and says. To me, getting back off the plane to shake the hand of the young marine was showing far more respect and appreciation of the men & women in our armed services than returning a salute while boarding could ever do.

    May 24, 2013 08:54 pm at 8:54 pm |
  18. David DeForge

    He's the Commander in Chief, he's doesn't have to salute.

    Get over it.

    May 24, 2013 08:56 pm at 8:56 pm |
  19. lawless4u

    The article mentions that the noise heard on the video prior to the rotor beginning to turn is the aerial power unit. This is incorrect. It is the AUXILLARY power unit that can be heard. In fact there is no aerial power unit on a helicopter. Aerial power units are devices used to turn antenae.

    May 24, 2013 08:56 pm at 8:56 pm |
  20. diana beardsley

    And why do we care one way or the other?

    May 24, 2013 08:56 pm at 8:56 pm |
  21. Anonymous

    he was thanking the man in uniform, hence the handshake

    May 24, 2013 08:58 pm at 8:58 pm |
  22. John

    I think I don't care, at all.

    May 24, 2013 08:58 pm at 8:58 pm |
  23. buz

    As gw bush would say, i am the decider. And so is obama.

    May 24, 2013 08:59 pm at 8:59 pm |
  24. Mike career Air Force officer

    Not a big deal–good on him for going back out!

    May 24, 2013 08:59 pm at 8:59 pm |
  25. NamePatrick

    I think Presidents ought not salute but shake hands.

    May 24, 2013 08:59 pm at 8:59 pm |
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