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. andi lee

    This is an "Opinion Piece", HENCE, filed under, CNN/blogs...

    May 24, 2013 05:37 pm at 5:37 pm |
  2. California Gary

    While we're talking about salutes.......I'd just like to salute everyone who ever wore the uniform on this Memorial Day weekend.......especially my fellow former and current Marines.........and most especially those who gave their lives in service to our country.

    May 24, 2013 05:52 pm at 5:52 pm |
  3. Randall Brown

    I dont think he did anything wrong the troop know he love them and support them it just politacs B.S.

    May 24, 2013 05:55 pm at 5:55 pm |
  4. Canadian Perspective

    So this is what passes for a scandal these days south of the border?

    Prime Minister Stephen Harper and Toronto Mayor Rob Ford wish they had it so scandalous.

    May 24, 2013 05:57 pm at 5:57 pm |
  5. smith

    if Bush had done this liberals would be cryin for weeks about how he is disrespectful and lacks common sense.

    May 24, 2013 05:58 pm at 5:58 pm |
  6. Len

    What a non important article.

    May 24, 2013 06:07 pm at 6:07 pm |
  7. smith

    Most liberals hate the military in their minds this is a good thing

    May 24, 2013 06:09 pm at 6:09 pm |
  8. jkane sfl the gop national disgrace party will be swept out like the trash they are in2014 ?

    Can the gop be any more of a joke to the average voter . Kick this gop garbage out in 2014 mid terms . They are proving themselves to stupid to govern .. can you imagine if these losers were actually in control of the goverment again . It's scary ,very scary , they have proved they can't govern ,even amongst themselves . Gop garbage party,makes nazis look almost good.

    May 24, 2013 06:13 pm at 6:13 pm |
  9. Chris

    1. the marine at the foot of steps is not an officer, he is a corporal.
    2. the noise you hear is not from an aerial power unit, it is from the auxiliary power unit.
    3, how hard can it be to get the facts right?

    May 24, 2013 06:22 pm at 6:22 pm |
  10. GaryS

    Since the President is a civilian in charge of the military I'd say he can do either.
    Generally when not in uniform military personnel do not salute.
    Since the President doesn't really have a uniform, his suit could be considered his uniform.
    Thus he has the ability to either Salute or handshake.
    Does this really matter? where are the jobs....mmkAAY

    May 24, 2013 06:33 pm at 6:33 pm |
  11. Amazing

    With all the more important issues we have to deal, this is worthless journalism. It is a perfect example of what is wrong with the media today!

    May 24, 2013 06:42 pm at 6:42 pm |
  12. Ollie

    What is Barry's problem???

    May 24, 2013 06:53 pm at 6:53 pm |
  13. Diogenes

    Nothing was forgotten. He simply shows his continued contempt for U.S. authority.

    May 24, 2013 06:57 pm at 6:57 pm |
  14. Bill

    I thought it was damned nice of him to go back and personally acknowledge his oversight. Not a big Obama fan here – but as a retired military man – he did the right thing to go back to the sergeant and shake his hand.

    May 24, 2013 06:59 pm at 6:59 pm |
  15. Shirley

    Good grief. focus on important matters. he is a nice man who wanted to shake hands.

    May 24, 2013 07:00 pm at 7:00 pm |
  16. WSC

    Oh my god here we go.. GARY, the Marine who's hand he shook is not an officer hes a CORPORAL. That makes him an E-4 enlisted Marine. Also, as the President of the United States, you dont salute the Marine, he salutes YOU! Active duty Marine here just sharing some knowledge.

    May 24, 2013 07:00 pm at 7:00 pm |
  17. Redeye Dog

    There is no debate. There is an entire manual written for customs and courtesies in the US military. The Commander in Chief is supposed to understand it completely as it was largely written to respect positions of authority. A soldier is required to salute an approaching officer and hold his salute until the officer (President) returns his salute. It is not optional! The soldier in this case did the next best professional thing to grab the President's hand but in doing so, the President showed disrespect to the soldier. If the President had returned the hand salute appropriately and then reached for a hand shake, he would have made the soldier's day..

    May 24, 2013 07:00 pm at 7:00 pm |
  18. yvonne blimline

    Is this really newsworthy?

    May 24, 2013 07:01 pm at 7:01 pm |
  19. ff0000

    Regardless of what the republican say OBAMA is human

    May 24, 2013 07:01 pm at 7:01 pm |
  20. jeff

    another "obama" moment?

    May 24, 2013 07:03 pm at 7:03 pm |
  21. Anonymous

    If I was that Marine standing there. I would welcome a hand shake more than a salute.

    May 24, 2013 07:04 pm at 7:04 pm |
  22. cebundy

    Civilians are not supposed or expected to salute. Even the Commander-In-Chief. However, military protocol dictates that military personnel must salute the President.

    May 24, 2013 07:05 pm at 7:05 pm |
  23. Patricia Kipp

    Without a doubt he should salute

    May 24, 2013 07:05 pm at 7:05 pm |
  24. freidamurray


    May 24, 2013 07:08 pm at 7:08 pm |
  25. jameshisself

    Yes slightly off topic, but the writer apparently guessed that APU is an acronym for AERIAL power unit. It's actually AUXILIARY power unit.

    That is all. Carry on.

    May 24, 2013 07:10 pm at 7:10 pm |
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