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. kristi

    big. deal.

    May 24, 2013 09:38 pm at 9:38 pm |
  2. Roger Smith

    We have never had a lower president than this Liar-in-Chief. Everyday, more and more comes out.

    May 24, 2013 09:39 pm at 9:39 pm |
  3. Shamrock

    I would prefer the handshake which is more personable due to it being an option.

    May 24, 2013 09:40 pm at 9:40 pm |
  4. Name

    The anti-christ strikes again. Keep on killing babies and saving terrorists. I cant wait till this bad joke of a presidency is over.

    May 24, 2013 09:40 pm at 9:40 pm |
  5. Joe

    Actually, the author is not correct. Failing to "return" a salute is a break in protocol, and is absolutely frowned on within the United States Military. However, the President did the right thing by coming out afterwards and shaking the Marine's hand, which is certainly a more intimate gesture. I'm sure the Marine appreciated it. Everyone makes mistakes...and the President realized it and took care of it.

    May 24, 2013 09:40 pm at 9:40 pm |
  6. Don Williams

    It's called an auxiliary power unit or APU. Aviators call it an ape.

    May 24, 2013 09:41 pm at 9:41 pm |
  7. u r wrong

    The Lance Corporal in the picture is not an officer.

    May 24, 2013 09:42 pm at 9:42 pm |
  8. Cathy

    He didn't salute because he has no respect for the military. He will be he reason we are takn down by our enemies. To him, if he could, he would spit on them. His arrogance knows no bounds. It's a slap in the face to the people who keep him and his Hollywood cronies safe at night. You have to give respect to get respect. I hope Obama learn it the hard way. Arrogant, socialist idiot. He thinks th war on terror is ve? Really? He is so far removed from what's going on in this country and ll his little cronies are making him the sighing stock president. Between fast n furious, Benghazi, ap and fox reports phone tapping. IRS profiling conservative groups, & the tea party. Do I need to go on? He's gonna go down in flames and ill e here with my marshmallows on a stick...

    May 24, 2013 09:42 pm at 9:42 pm |
  9. Louis Meier

    I really think that people have over-analyzed this and many of his critics will probably say, "As President, how can you forget to salute!"

    He's human ... Here in the U.S., we have bigger issues to worry about than the President forgetting a salute.

    May 24, 2013 09:43 pm at 9:43 pm |
  10. Daniel

    Really? I feel like he just felt giving that guy a handshake... why is this even on the news?

    May 24, 2013 09:44 pm at 9:44 pm |
  11. Don Watkins

    Shaking hands is more personal than a salute. I thinks it's cool he shook hands with the Marine! Cheers!

    May 24, 2013 09:44 pm at 9:44 pm |
  12. Chris

    He can do whatever the hell he wants to do, he's the freaking president!!!

    May 24, 2013 09:44 pm at 9:44 pm |
  13. Stevie Nichts

    He also doesn't like to show respect to the flag. However, he has no problem bowing to foreign leaders.

    May 24, 2013 09:45 pm at 9:45 pm |
  14. Tom

    Really shouldn't be an issue. Although it would be a considerate gesture.

    May 24, 2013 09:45 pm at 9:45 pm |
  15. Shamrock

    He forgot and appeared to have been reminded. Probably went to the soldier and said, I am sorry I missed you but thank you very much. It probably made that soldier's year due to his beaming smile! The media is trying to bait the public to make it a big deal. Stop the madness!

    May 24, 2013 09:45 pm at 9:45 pm |
  16. Nina

    oh my...nothing better to write about...he broke with 30 year tradition...but he also broke with 200+ year tradition in being a black man elected to President!!!...No protocol was broken. In fact, he showed he was a true gentleman and leader because he went into the copter, realized he did not acknowledge the marine and went back out and shook his hand...he didn't have to do that, but out of respect he did. That counts for a whole lot more than did he or didn't he know the salute that prior to Reagan no one did!

    May 24, 2013 09:46 pm at 9:46 pm |
  17. Ralph

    Gee, President Obama must be quite distracted with all his scandals....

    May 24, 2013 09:46 pm at 9:46 pm |
  18. JT

    The smile on the face of the Marines tells you ALL you need to know.

    May 24, 2013 09:46 pm at 9:46 pm |
  19. Pool orb

    Why buy all of it? You can always parcel things out. Then again......LOL.

    May 24, 2013 09:46 pm at 9:46 pm |
  20. Holly Hutchins

    Well gee...dumb person is supposed to be the commander in chief...correct??? In the military , the salute is a form of either Obummer doesn't respect our military...or he doesn't respect his self enough to think he deserves a salute. Either way he will not be out of office fast enough!

    May 24, 2013 09:49 pm at 9:49 pm |
  21. Jim

    Of course it wasn't a slight. Obama didn't have him holding an umbrella for him.

    May 24, 2013 09:49 pm at 9:49 pm |
  22. Mountainsboyca

    Should he salute? No. Should he return a salute? Maybe.
    The marines at the door are not officers , therefore not entires a salute. However, the marines should, and always do, salute the president. The president could return the salute, but as a civilian, is not required.
    In the end it is respectful but it is the presidents choice.

    May 24, 2013 09:50 pm at 9:50 pm |
  23. ARTraveler

    Well, I guess Representative Issa will want to investigate this also. If Issa keeps up with his pseudo-scandals, President Obama's ratings may hit 85%.

    May 24, 2013 09:52 pm at 9:52 pm |
  24. Don in Auburn

    Technically one does not salute when out of uniform. However when you think about it, a business suit *is* the "uniform" of POTUS and so if a uniformed service member salutes POTUS, by traditional military protocol the salute should be returned. Shaking hands is not a sign of respect, it is actually a sign of "lack of a threat." It evolved because 90% of people are right handed and if a guy is holding your sword hand you can't attack him. So instead it is a bit of an insult and freaks them out. Look at the expression on that Corporal's face.

    May 24, 2013 09:53 pm at 9:53 pm |
  25. CK

    Anyone think that maybe he tried to make it personal, and thank the soldier for his service since Monday is Memorial Day? Much ado about nothing, indeed!

    May 24, 2013 09:53 pm at 9:53 pm |
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