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. Log Cabin

    This is news???

    May 24, 2013 09:00 pm at 9:00 pm |
  2. Semper Cogitatus

    What's great about this, and what highlights the left's constant slight to the military, is that both the author and some of the Obama supporter commenters are referring to that young corporal as an officer. The left, from Obama on down, have a complete ignorance of and a complete disdain for the military.

    May 24, 2013 09:00 pm at 9:00 pm |
  3. Steve

    As a retired Air Force guy...the handshake meant more to that young Marine than a salute would...get off of the President's back. He is doing a good job as Commander-in-Chief.

    May 24, 2013 09:00 pm at 9:00 pm |
  4. Semper Cogitatus

    He's a corporal, not an officer.

    May 24, 2013 09:00 pm at 9:00 pm |
  5. lawless4u

    So because Ronny Raygun messed up 30 yrs ago all presidents, current and future are supposed to follow suit?

    May 24, 2013 09:00 pm at 9:00 pm |
  6. charles brandt

    Give the newsman a break.It was a slow day in the newsroom

    May 24, 2013 09:00 pm at 9:00 pm |
  7. Fiona

    No, the prez should not salute in this situation. The handshake Obama offered is the correct protocol.

    May 24, 2013 09:02 pm at 9:02 pm |
  8. Steve

    He's the CIC. If he doesn't salute it's his prerogative. As a former Marine if the President shook my hand it would be an honor. Quit making more out of it then it is. My guess would be that most of you CNN types have never served. Move on!

    May 24, 2013 09:03 pm at 9:03 pm |
  9. Lego

    Render a salute is a military custom that is required when dealing with officers. I salute my battalion commander, but I personally find it more respectful when he stops and shakes my hand asking how I'm doing.

    May 24, 2013 09:03 pm at 9:03 pm |
  10. wade

    The fact that the president and the vice president are hosting illegal immigrants in the White House while constricting citizen tours and refusing to meet with immigration officers says it all

    Obama has no respect for anything or anyone that values or represents American values.

    May 24, 2013 09:03 pm at 9:03 pm |
  11. Tommy Harrison

    The president should salute the soldier. He is the commander in chief. You never saw President Bush handshake a soldier. He always saluted them.

    May 24, 2013 09:04 pm at 9:04 pm |
  12. CNN is Written by 9yr olds

    Although I am not a fan of Obama, he is the commander in Chief

    May 24, 2013 09:04 pm at 9:04 pm |
  13. Hans Bombeck

    aren't there more important issues for our President to worry about? you should be ashamed to even have raised this!!!!!!

    May 24, 2013 09:04 pm at 9:04 pm |
  14. Jenny Ruth Yasi

    That was the President being friendly! What a nice warm gesture, actually going and saying hello to the Marine. I am sure that Marine was thrilled and felt an actual handshake was a lot more significant than a salute!

    May 24, 2013 09:05 pm at 9:05 pm |
  15. former marine

    Handshake is far more personal. This young Marine will never forget it.

    May 24, 2013 09:05 pm at 9:05 pm |
  16. David Cope

    Has anyone thought that he maybe broke the normal protocol to take special notice of and thank the Marines flying him this Memorial Day Weekend for serving in the military? This is a clear example of jumping to conclusions without knowing the full context.

    May 24, 2013 09:05 pm at 9:05 pm |
  17. jp

    seriously this is a news story WHY?

    May 24, 2013 09:05 pm at 9:05 pm |
  18. WOW Permanently moderated by CNN

    He is the commander in chief... He should remember protocol....

    May 24, 2013 09:06 pm at 9:06 pm |
  19. Keith in Massachusetts

    I am a member of the Coast Guard Auxiliary, the civilian volunteer arm of the Coast Guard. It is our policy that any time you are saluted by a member of the armed forces, you return the salute out of respect. The same should apply to the POTUS.

    May 24, 2013 09:06 pm at 9:06 pm |
  20. Cherokee Chief

    This President is a very thoughtful guy. Boarding the chopper and exiting to shake hands with the marine is more powerful than the salute. I will trade a salute for a real handshake in a heartbeat. Best thing he did.

    May 24, 2013 09:06 pm at 9:06 pm |
  21. Hans Bombeck

    aren't there more important issues for our President to worry about? you should never even have raised this.

    May 24, 2013 09:06 pm at 9:06 pm |
  22. Moonbeam

    It seems offering a handshake is even more personal and just as respectful, and perhaps the President is on friendly personal terms with that particular Marine and wanted to give him a less formal and more personal greeting.

    May 24, 2013 09:08 pm at 9:08 pm |
  23. Allie

    I agree that the salute by a civilian leader is an over-militarization of the presidency. Seems like this is the pendulum swinging in the opposite direction after gwb's 'mission accomplished' days. Also, don't think it's newsworthy, except I'm sure some bs. sites have blown it out of proportion.

    May 24, 2013 09:08 pm at 9:08 pm |
  24. ei8htx

    Well I'm just glad the economy is doing ok.

    May 24, 2013 09:09 pm at 9:09 pm |
  25. LLinda

    Looks as if someone had to coach the President – go back an acknowledge the Marine! Oops, handshake.

    May 24, 2013 09:10 pm at 9:10 pm |
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