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)
  1. us_1776

    Let's see.

    4 billion salutes the president has to make and he misses one.

    No problem.


    May 24, 2013 11:38 pm at 11:38 pm |
  2. Double B

    Really? This is worthy of a freaking headline? Are you joking?

    May 24, 2013 11:38 pm at 11:38 pm |
  3. david fulford

    Hard to say but since Obama has never served his country who cares....besides he is too cool for all that tradition stuff....probably not on purpose but the Marine probably would like a salute back

    May 24, 2013 11:38 pm at 11:38 pm |
  4. daniel

    not really any opinion until it asks "what do you think?" at the end of the article. Rest of it discuss what happened, and the recent traditions over the last several decades.

    May 24, 2013 11:39 pm at 11:39 pm |
  5. Mr Dalloway

    Media, America's bottomless pit

    May 24, 2013 11:40 pm at 11:40 pm |
  6. Angela

    The president can salute, but on the eve of memorial day maybe he just wanted a more personable thank you. A salute is an acknowledgement, a respectful gesture of mutual honor. However, a handshake is more of a thank you or nice to meet you gesture. The president has saluted before so I think this was a conscious effort to make those marines feel special.

    May 24, 2013 11:42 pm at 11:42 pm |
  7. bennett, h

    Stop waisting your time writing about this mess. Who gives a damn!!! That's why I dont watch the news anymore because they're in the business of creating news instead of reporting what acually happens.

    May 24, 2013 11:42 pm at 11:42 pm |
  8. Olaf Big

    Now a really important question for you bloggers to weigh in: shall I have another beer?

    May 24, 2013 11:42 pm at 11:42 pm |
  9. Anonymous

    As much as I despise President Obama, I see nothing wrong. In fact, I commend him for doing this much. Ask every enlisted man how many times a 2nd LT has blown him off by just not saluting back. At least Obama had enough couth to fix his simple mistake. Unlike 95% of those others that wouldnt even acknowledge it.

    May 24, 2013 11:43 pm at 11:43 pm |
  10. dnokc

    Clueless...was probably asking for his umbrella.

    May 24, 2013 11:45 pm at 11:45 pm |
  11. inyofaceagain

    He saluted as he walked into the chopper. Then he shook hands. Whats the big deal?

    May 24, 2013 11:46 pm at 11:46 pm |
  12. shawn l

    He's not in the military. He's a civilian.

    May 24, 2013 11:47 pm at 11:47 pm |
  13. Mike in SA

    Should all president salute the troops? Yes. You should always salute those that you may be putting into harms way the next day. Personal opinion.

    May 24, 2013 11:49 pm at 11:49 pm |
  14. RayJacksonMS

    So basically he did something more personal than wha they usually get but this article wants to make the seem like a bad thing.

    May 24, 2013 11:50 pm at 11:50 pm |

    He's the boss of the private, the Commandant of the Marine Corps and every Leatherneck in between. If he wants a high five, it will be returned in a crisp, proficient military manner. Semper Fi.

    May 24, 2013 11:51 pm at 11:51 pm |
  16. Mark

    This is news?

    May 24, 2013 11:52 pm at 11:52 pm |
  17. Captain Obvious

    I don't think it matters in the least one way or the other.

    May 24, 2013 11:52 pm at 11:52 pm |
  18. Publius1787

    Of course he doesn't need to salute. They way he has disrespected the military (allowing women into combat roles, selecting political generals instead of warrior generals, not pushing for pay increases) has made it commonplace in the military. This is just the final act of a man who has little respect of the military except to use it for his social experiments and to make sure he lowers the military preparedness.

    May 24, 2013 11:52 pm at 11:52 pm |
  19. Tired

    The Salute is a time honored tradition among members of the military, it is a show of respect. Way to show respect there Commander in Chief....

    May 24, 2013 11:52 pm at 11:52 pm |
  20. proskater

    i love that the marines dont care. i respect the fact that they are still older and wiser than some of their colleagues. non-issue. but it does give us all a moment to thank our service members, regardless!!! much deserved and overdue. im sorry. thank you, always. 🙂

    May 24, 2013 11:53 pm at 11:53 pm |
  21. whatsup

    Hell yes he should return a salute.

    May 24, 2013 11:53 pm at 11:53 pm |
  22. wastewater1

    'Treason I Shout and Shame on You I Say" Christopher Tingus (2012) – The Benghazi Massacre

    May 24, 2013 11:53 pm at 11:53 pm |
  23. duke

    The truth is the President didn't even acknowledge the Marine Soldier at first. He boarded the plane and then, probably after being informed of his lack of proper etiquette, he came out and shook the soldier's hand.

    So here's what I believe to be true, if this was Bush (whom the media believed was an idiot) then the same news media that dismisses this and other protocol failures with Obama, would've made a huge issue of this event.

    May 24, 2013 11:55 pm at 11:55 pm |
  24. Active Duty Officer

    I am an active duty officer. I agree with Mike and Former Military Officer. To me, the bottom line is that anyone who offers a salute should be acknowledged...whether a salute or other fitting gesture...and in the case of a civilian (to include POTUS) and handshake is just fine. If the President blew by a saluting Marine without an acknowledgement...we then have an issue. My service's etiquette dictates that I don't salute indoors or uncovered, so if I drive through a gate and am not in uniform and a guard salutes me, I either go ahead and return salute (technically a breech of my service's protocol), wave, or some other form of acknowledgement. Frankly, I think the handshake is a more personal touch in this case and an even more up close and personal acknowledgement from a civilian elected my humble opinion, the handshake is a perfectly acceptable acknowledgement from POTUS.

    May 24, 2013 11:55 pm at 11:55 pm |
  25. Bill

    As Commander in Chief, it is their choice whether or not to salute...but once they decide to salute they should be consistent 100% of the time.

    May 24, 2013 11:57 pm at 11:57 pm |
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