May 24th, 2013
04:14 PM ET
7 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.

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)

    He forgets a lot.

    May 24, 2013 11:02 pm at 11:02 pm |
  2. ernie ells

    The Marine in the picture is a Sergeant. He is an enlisted Marine. Not an officer. The President got it right to just shake his hands. But still the President should have returned the salute and then shook his hand

    May 24, 2013 11:03 pm at 11:03 pm |
  3. consideration

    I really think that the endless controversy machine that conservative media has created has undermined their ability to capitalize on potentially real controversies. By being outraged at everything from umbrellas to handshakes, they are like the boy who cried wolf and no one listens when there are actual reasons to be upset.

    Hardly a week after Obama's "worst week ever", the scandals are all but forgotten with regard to people's perception of Obama.

    May 24, 2013 11:03 pm at 11:03 pm |
  4. hanrahan

    When you have a POS as your President, I guess anything goes.

    May 24, 2013 11:04 pm at 11:04 pm |
  5. Isabel Smith

    This man, barack obama, systematically shows disrespect to the military in so many subtle ways. Having a marine hold an umbrella over his head while it rains, "forgetting" to salute the soldier in this photo - just two of the many ways this guy disrespects the country he supposedly serves and the miliatary that protects him.....obama's probably still at the prom. Yeah, that's it.

    May 24, 2013 11:04 pm at 11:04 pm |
  6. S McGinnis

    get a life people, this ain't news....we have so much more to worry about than this

    May 24, 2013 11:05 pm at 11:05 pm |
  7. barbara

    yes i do believe the president should salute....its honoring to the soldier too and as u said he has offered his life to the country by being in the armed services.

    May 24, 2013 11:06 pm at 11:06 pm |
  8. Dan Ari

    This is news? We can only hope that we will get back a real press before the country completely collapses under ignorance and partisan lies.

    May 24, 2013 11:06 pm at 11:06 pm |
  9. Dave

    Avalanche of fake outrage in 3..2..1

    May 24, 2013 11:07 pm at 11:07 pm |
  10. McLeod

    Well if he was just saluting officers o see why he shook that ncos hand...

    May 24, 2013 11:08 pm at 11:08 pm |
  11. T Hayden

    I can't remember the number of times I saluted officers as an enlisted man with no salute returned. That handshake would be something to remember though.

    May 24, 2013 11:08 pm at 11:08 pm |
  12. Anonymous

    It looks to me as though he does salute the crew in the chopper at the top of the stairs.

    May 24, 2013 11:09 pm at 11:09 pm |
  13. OH NO!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

    That is just remarkable.

    May 24, 2013 11:10 pm at 11:10 pm |
  14. albertoisarapist

    Breaking News: Obama doesnt wash hands after taking a dump in toilet one

    May 24, 2013 11:11 pm at 11:11 pm |
  15. Grant

    I don't really care.

    May 24, 2013 11:11 pm at 11:11 pm |
  16. jeffengen

    I see this video as he goes back and shakes his hand and apologizes for not saluting; a nice gesture.

    The President of the United States of America might of had a lot on his mind...

    May 24, 2013 11:12 pm at 11:12 pm |
  17. budanski

    non-issue. the prez. acknowledged the marine. nuff said... this coming from a conservative

    May 24, 2013 11:12 pm at 11:12 pm |
  18. jim

    Who cares.

    May 24, 2013 11:12 pm at 11:12 pm |
  19. Andy H.

    How about focus on republicans in congress which have tripped this country to fall flat on its face while seeming to be proud of it?

    May 24, 2013 11:14 pm at 11:14 pm |
  20. LouAZ

    This USAF (1963-67) Vet learned early on –
    If it is moving, salute it.
    If it ain't moving, paint it.

    May 24, 2013 11:14 pm at 11:14 pm |
  21. Bhaadu

    It is hard for the C-in-C to remember things that don't come naturally.

    May 24, 2013 11:14 pm at 11:14 pm |
  22. stuj

    Waste of bandwidth.

    May 24, 2013 11:16 pm at 11:16 pm |
  23. Brett

    Salute or handshake...both are an acknowledgement and sign of respect. And it's auxiliary power unit not aerial.

    May 24, 2013 11:16 pm at 11:16 pm |
  24. Jeff

    Honestly, who cares!? Navy vet

    May 24, 2013 11:17 pm at 11:17 pm |
  25. John N Florida

    It's Memorial Day weekend. I think the hand shake is totally appropriate as a gesture of thanks.

    May 24, 2013 11:18 pm at 11:18 pm |
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