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. dsei


    May 24, 2013 11:18 pm at 11:18 pm |
  2. Anonymous

    APU is not an aerial power unit, it is an auxiallry power unit

    May 24, 2013 11:21 pm at 11:21 pm |
  3. Phyllis LeCuru Ryan

    Anyone in the military should ALWAYS be saluted as a sign of respect for the dedication and sacrifice they offer, even the president should DEFINITELY salute to show thanks and respect.

    May 24, 2013 11:22 pm at 11:22 pm |
  4. Roberto

    It's ok. He never served, nor deserves the right to a salute or to give a salute. No problemo.

    May 24, 2013 11:23 pm at 11:23 pm |
  5. Paul Williamson


    May 24, 2013 11:24 pm at 11:24 pm |
  6. Charlotte, NC

    IRS, AP, Benghazi, etc. Who gives a flip.

    May 24, 2013 11:25 pm at 11:25 pm |
  7. snowdogg

    not an issue

    May 24, 2013 11:26 pm at 11:26 pm |
  8. Richard Long

    Obama has always hated the military and all military personnel. He went ahead and eliminated funding for college education for military personnel. For Obama, the only thing the military is good for is to hold umbrellas so he doesn't get wet.

    May 24, 2013 11:27 pm at 11:27 pm |
  9. Nicholas Smith

    Easy to make a mistake like that...ONCE!

    May 24, 2013 11:27 pm at 11:27 pm |
  10. Austin

    I think it was nice of him to shake the Marine's hand. It breaks the formality for once and humanizes the "relationship" between the two.

    May 24, 2013 11:27 pm at 11:27 pm |
  11. Tony in STL

    So what! He's working hard. Thanks for the continuous slander attempts at our President. God Bless President Obama, and our Great Country! I'm sure that most of countrymen appreciate him, and are honored to be in his presence! He's only the leader of the free world!

    May 24, 2013 11:28 pm at 11:28 pm |
  12. Kristin

    No big deal. I don't salute killers of innocents either.

    May 24, 2013 11:28 pm at 11:28 pm |
  13. Claude Harvey

    Of course the man should salute. He's Commander in Chief of the U.S. armed forces.

    May 24, 2013 11:29 pm at 11:29 pm |
  14. Sam Diego Matt

    Questionning the President's move here is unAmerican. Honestly, civilians dont salute service Members hands all day and night and its not different should the president do so. Do you see any past Presidents salute every member of the military helicopter or not? NO of course not – focus on the real issues and stop diverting attention away from your own shortcomings people...

    May 24, 2013 11:30 pm at 11:30 pm |
  15. Donnie the Lion

    It is always a nice courtesy to acknowledge the military, but this isn't the end of the world.

    May 24, 2013 11:30 pm at 11:30 pm |
  16. Alan

    We've had Presidents that have neither saluted nor shook the hands of military personnel (at least on occassions).

    IF the President of the USA, chooses to salute OR to shake hands with military personnel or anyone else, that ought to be more than all right to near everyone.

    IF the President chose to salute OR to shake my hand, I would accept that as very respectful of him and an high
    honor to me.

    May 24, 2013 11:31 pm at 11:31 pm |
  17. Independence is Best

    Good for the Pres. He appreciates and connects with our military – God bless America and OUR President!

    May 24, 2013 11:32 pm at 11:32 pm |
  18. chemicalbank

    If George Bush doesn't have to eat broccoli, Obama can shake hands with soldiers.

    May 24, 2013 11:33 pm at 11:33 pm |
  19. moas786

    that was pretty cool...that he humbled himself and shook the man's hand.

    May 24, 2013 11:34 pm at 11:34 pm |
  20. Ram Narayanan

    Who cares anyway?

    May 24, 2013 11:34 pm at 11:34 pm |
  21. Codestud3

    This s an automatically generated fawn piece on Obama.

    May 24, 2013 11:34 pm at 11:34 pm |
  22. ScottCA

    Shameful that he failed to salute the Marine, this and the umbrella holding incident are displaying a lack of respect from the president that is most disturbing.

    May 24, 2013 11:35 pm at 11:35 pm |
  23. Bill

    As Commander-in-Chief, I think it is very appropriate to return the salute as a sign of mutual respect.

    May 24, 2013 11:36 pm at 11:36 pm |
  24. army

    it is true that a civilian does not have to salute but when the president takes the oath of office he is sworn in just as any military officer or enlisted is and when saluted it is custom to return the salute as a sign of respect and courtesy and friendship as is the custom and has been since the beginning of this country check your military history.

    May 24, 2013 11:37 pm at 11:37 pm |
  25. Joe

    What is an aerial power unit?

    May 24, 2013 11:37 pm at 11:37 pm |
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