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. king

    When i was there i was taught to always return a salute but the office did not give the first

    May 25, 2013 12:39 am at 12:39 am |
  2. J.Guy

    Yes, the President should salute....even this one.

    May 25, 2013 12:39 am at 12:39 am |
  3. halfdoctor

    he prbly jus forgot in the commotion ..... non issue

    May 25, 2013 12:41 am at 12:41 am |
  4. Ideas, Ideals, and not ideologies

    Last week's controversy was the Marine holding the umbrella for Obama. Marines are prohibited from carrying umbrellas while in uniform because it would interfere with their ability to salute. But what do you do if your commander-in-chief tells you to carry his umbrella. You simply do it because his word supersede that rule.
    So, if you don't know what you're talking about do the yourself a favor be quiet because it's better to stay quiet and leave people wondering than to open your mouth and confirm that you're a fool.

    May 25, 2013 12:42 am at 12:42 am |
  5. Gene

    What an embarrassment this president is. Wow.

    May 25, 2013 12:44 am at 12:44 am |
  6. saoirse72

    It depends on the occasion. If the president wants to shake their hands or salute them. Let's not make a mountain out of a mole hill. It obviously depends on the situation.

    May 25, 2013 12:45 am at 12:45 am |
  7. Ferealz

    Turns out the marine was a new dad and Obama had found out and wanted to congratulate him. Class act, I say, although some might prefer a fist-bump between two dudes.

    May 25, 2013 12:46 am at 12:46 am |
  8. fekt

    let the whining begin

    May 25, 2013 12:46 am at 12:46 am |
  9. Sanjeev Santhakumar

    I think that the president should salute the troops because our troops are protecting our homeland and freedom!

    May 25, 2013 12:47 am at 12:47 am |
  10. It'sHIsChoice

    President Obama is Commander-in-Chief of our military, it would be his choice. Obama's respectful all around and his coming back out of the presidential helicopter to shake the Marine's hand reinforces Obama's respect for our nation's military.

    May 25, 2013 12:48 am at 12:48 am |
  11. David

    I mean... Everyone should salute a corporal right?

    May 25, 2013 12:50 am at 12:50 am |
  12. ferdi

    It is not that the President did not salute. It is the Return Salute that was not rendered. I've always find it awkward when someone in civilian clothes salute. It is just not done by military personnel. As the Commander in Chief, he has the option. The Marine Corporal should have a better answer whether it was a big deal for him or not. I would guess it was not.

    May 25, 2013 12:53 am at 12:53 am |
  13. BeadlesAz

    Mr. McDaniel – no you do not ALWAYS return the salute. You do not salute when you are in civilian clothes. You do not salute when *uncovered* – i.e., in uniform but not wearing your hat. And, if you are in the Navy, you do not salute when you are indoors, even if wearing your hat. So, you may have issues with our current Commander-in-Chief – but this can't be one.

    May 25, 2013 12:53 am at 12:53 am |
  14. Auroralee Sapp

    Yes, The President should salute out of respect and honor for the men & women protecting our country. He is shows little respect at times for the United States or the beliefs our country was founded on.... it is sad.

    May 25, 2013 12:53 am at 12:53 am |
  15. SHOK

    He is the commander in chief, he can do what he damn pleases, the military are there to serve him.

    May 25, 2013 12:54 am at 12:54 am |
  16. Flora

    People should start focusing on what's really important. This is a non issuue.

    May 25, 2013 12:57 am at 12:57 am |
  17. corpsman

    The salute shows respect, but the handshake shows warmth.

    May 25, 2013 12:58 am at 12:58 am |
  18. Jim970

    I've always felt that a president who never served in the military should not salute. I see it as no big deal that Obama shook hands rather than saluting. He is a civilian after all. And he has done plenty for the nation to be concerned about. Ignore this minor, non-point and concentrate on Obama's important missteps.

    May 25, 2013 12:58 am at 12:58 am |
  19. mrphred

    I am comfortable with him not saluting the Marines as long as they are not required to salute him!!!

    May 25, 2013 01:01 am at 1:01 am |
  20. Angelica Y


    May 25, 2013 01:03 am at 1:03 am |
  21. Bill

    Personally, I find the salute a sign of respect of service, but I also find a handshake far more personal. It seems Obama, like his more recent predecessors, usually salutes the military. I actually think it's a nice gesture if the President forgoes the traditional for a far more personal handshake every now and then.

    May 25, 2013 01:03 am at 1:03 am |

    This just shows exactly how classy President Obama is. I couldn't be more proud of the fact that I voted for him TWICE!!! He is an awesome leader and will go down in history as one of the greatest Presidents EVER!

    May 25, 2013 01:04 am at 1:04 am |
  23. herfules

    Oh the horror. The horror.

    May 25, 2013 01:05 am at 1:05 am |
  24. Randall

    Without question he should salute !

    May 25, 2013 01:05 am at 1:05 am |
  25. Elaine Croft

    Yes, he should salute, by all means

    May 25, 2013 01:05 am at 1:05 am |
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