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. herfules

    Why does this merit discussion? Oh the horror...the horror. NOT!

    May 25, 2013 01:05 am at 1:05 am |
  2. Howard "skip" Fisher

    Really is it that big of a deal that he shook the marines hand instead of salute.I'm a Viet Nam era vet and also worked over 20 years for the Indian health service in Gallup NM.I remember getting things thrown at my uniform and being called baby killer. At least now the military gets respect..

    May 25, 2013 01:07 am at 1:07 am |

    yes he/.she should salute...

    May 25, 2013 01:08 am at 1:08 am |
  4. nonyabidnes2

    This seems to be a pattern of Obama. Remember when in after awarding a soldier the Medal of Honor, the President didn't salute him..

    May 25, 2013 01:08 am at 1:08 am |
  5. al

    If it is not customary to salute when not in uniform, then the president needn't salute, unless he/she is in uniform.

    May 25, 2013 01:09 am at 1:09 am |
  6. Iamnotfooled

    His mind was occupied with running the country. Something most of us could not do. He remembered and came back out of the helicopter and shook hands with the marine. So what? Is this another scandal like Umbrella Gate? Plain nonsense and SILLY GATE.

    May 25, 2013 01:10 am at 1:10 am |
  7. Heather

    This is news? If he forgets to brush his teeth tonight can we get a story on that too?

    May 25, 2013 01:13 am at 1:13 am |
  8. Frank

    YES! It is the least he can do to honor those in uniform and most of them are the enlisted men and women of the armed forces! Don't you dare forget them for the sacrifices they have made! This is the least you can do a simple salute for all that you expect of them and rarely acknowledge when they deploy, or ask for a scarce pay raise to take care of loved ones while those in office get double their salary! YES, it is the right thing to do, no second guessing!

    May 25, 2013 01:16 am at 1:16 am |
  9. Melissa

    I think he should salute with that being said I think its nice that he made it a point to shake that Marines hand that's more personal and I am sure a nice change for that Marine

    May 25, 2013 01:18 am at 1:18 am |
  10. Anonymous

    honest mistake

    May 25, 2013 01:19 am at 1:19 am |
  11. Faizan

    Creeping Sharia Law..

    May 25, 2013 01:19 am at 1:19 am |
  12. Anonymous

    A salute is official. A hand shake is human. You decide what is best. And I have a strong military background.

    May 25, 2013 01:21 am at 1:21 am |
  13. Rick

    I'm retired USAF and this POTUS is a POS. IMHO.

    May 25, 2013 01:21 am at 1:21 am |
  14. scottl

    Do you guys actually have nothing more important to write about? This really is sad

    May 25, 2013 01:22 am at 1:22 am |
  15. norker

    He's the President. He can do as he likes.

    May 25, 2013 01:23 am at 1:23 am |
  16. Stephen R. Troy

    A military salute is a military gesture. It is proper for anyone who has served in the Armed Forces. Presidents Truman, Eisenhower, Reagan, and both Bushes did. Presidents Clinton and Obama did not.

    May 25, 2013 01:24 am at 1:24 am |
  17. hawaiiduude

    sparks what debate?? Who's debating this trivial dribble? Handshake is more personal anyway, if I were still a marine that would be preferred by me in that context.

    May 25, 2013 01:25 am at 1:25 am |
  18. Warren Rogers

    As a retired military veteran, in my opinion, it was a greater honor and respect to that super sharp Marine that the President exited the helicopter and personally greeted and shook his hand. To me, it was always better to receive a salute and personal greet and handshake. Since he missed the salute, with probably one million issues on his mind and deadlines to meet, it was very humble and respectful to exit the vehicle and meet and greet the Marine. Way to clean it up Mr. President.

    May 25, 2013 01:26 am at 1:26 am |
  19. Mommytoane

    Wow really? A debate on a handshake vs a salute? Its well known a handshake is a sign of respect. Its also well known Obama respects the troops. So where's the story here? With everything else in the world going on, THIS makes headline news? Go find some missing children to talk about or write a piece on how bullying affects our nation. SOMETHING other than bullying the president because of a glitch in saluting.

    May 25, 2013 01:27 am at 1:27 am |
  20. Dapple

    lol. This stuff makes me giggle. If he salutes he salutes. If he happens to not salute, well he's the President. I'm sure he's forgotten quite a few other little things to do during his time in often. I'm not upset about it. Presidents are still human and humans forget things. It happens. Lets not make a big deal out of it. He could accidentally spill coke on the Queen of England and that would be far worse in comparison to this.

    May 25, 2013 01:28 am at 1:28 am |
  21. CynicLgrrl

    I dunno.. It makes more sense if you, yourself, are military..or are former military. Then again.. once you're 'commander in chief' you're pretty much 'top of the heap'. I know I've seen people give a lame salute too. It's almost disrepectful if it isn't done well.

    May 25, 2013 01:29 am at 1:29 am |
  22. Mark

    His watch was also 30 seconds off and he didn't say "bless you" when a secret service agent sneezed.

    May 25, 2013 01:30 am at 1:30 am |
  23. ass9

    Obama is anti American in so many ways.

    May 25, 2013 01:31 am at 1:31 am |
  24. larry

    I don't like Obama but I understand how he could do this. Are there any of us who have had so much on our mind that we forget to do something we would automatically do? Obama has all of these scandals going on now and if It were me they would be weighing on my mind so heavy I would have a hard time remembering anything but them.

    May 25, 2013 01:33 am at 1:33 am |
  25. Bill

    Yes, he is the commander in chief and should treat military with respect.

    Not surprising he wouldn't he has not treated the American Public with respect so why should he the military.

    May 25, 2013 01:34 am at 1:34 am |
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