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. Dennis

    Salute, shake hands – what does it matter? The point that he remembered and appreciated the marine is all that matters.

    May 25, 2013 01:51 am at 1:51 am |
  2. Robin

    why should he salute. he was never a millitary man. it's kinda like expecting someone who is not a Brit to bow before the queen. he didn't do anything wrong. handshake was fine.

    May 25, 2013 01:51 am at 1:51 am |
  3. Logic N LA

    He is Commander and Chief. He is not in the military.
    He, by his position, can do what he wants. And, out of respect for the military, should not use a servicemen's gesture not being one himself.
    His gesture was perfectly proper and respective.

    May 25, 2013 01:51 am at 1:51 am |
  4. John H

    Why would anyone want to carry on a Reagan tradition?

    May 25, 2013 01:53 am at 1:53 am |
  5. Craig Adams MD

    More Obama bashing- what a sick nation of kooks we have become-

    May 25, 2013 01:54 am at 1:54 am |
  6. Patrick

    While that is all fine and dandy, it's still (at least while I was in the Army) it was customs and courtesy regs that you salute the commander in chief... and 99% of the time (apparently not now) he would render the salute back.

    May 25, 2013 01:54 am at 1:54 am |
  7. Lisa

    He is such a disgrace for an American President!

    May 25, 2013 01:55 am at 1:55 am |
  8. YukonJack

    Saluting when out of uniform (commander in chief or not) is inappropriate. The "handshake" in question seems slightly overdone, and a vocal greeting might be more appropriate, e.g. "thank you!"

    May 25, 2013 01:57 am at 1:57 am |
  9. Panicheels

    This weekend, especially Monday, is a time when we should give thanks to those who have fallen and those who have served or are currently serving. Maybe he was doing just that with a handshake and a thanks. Media blowing it out of proportion once again

    May 25, 2013 01:57 am at 1:57 am |
  10. Steve

    C' was an honest mistake. But really, how many of us can say that the President of the United States walked up to us, said a few words and shook our hand while looking us straight in the eye?? That Marine can...kudos to him!!!!! We're only human people.

    May 25, 2013 02:00 am at 2:00 am |
  11. Eddie

    Besides not being in the protocol and I think as CIC he can salute or not.

    I think he only noticed that he forgot to salute as he was already on the aircraft (maybe he was preoccupied in his thoughts while walking out to the chopper) he then got out of the aircraft and appologized by shaking hands with the guard. It would have looked more awkward if he would have come out, saluted and went back in without exchanging words of appology with the guard.

    May 25, 2013 02:01 am at 2:01 am |
  12. Keyboard Cowboy

    As Commander-in_chief of the military, if someone renders you a salute, it should be considered respectful to return said salute. Obama is not new to this job, he should have shown this Marine proper respect. He chose not to. He has no respect for the military or those of us who have served!

    May 25, 2013 02:02 am at 2:02 am |
  13. Anonymous

    I would rather have a handshake and a few kinds words over a salute any day. God people are really trying hard to find flaws in Obama these days...

    May 25, 2013 02:02 am at 2:02 am |
  14. Jan in Phoenix

    He's the President !! The handshake was very personal. And I'm sure it meant more to that Marine than the traditional salute.

    May 25, 2013 02:06 am at 2:06 am |
  15. Tony

    Why would he salute when he doesn`t even put his hand across his chest when he should.

    May 25, 2013 02:11 am at 2:11 am |
  16. Matthew

    It is the lower rank that is supposed to salute first as a sign of respect to authority, so the President did nothing insulting. He just dropped formality. I can't imagine a single service member that would care. Personally, I would prefer the handshake because it has a more personal feel to it, then the generic salute that is required everytime you pass an officer.

    May 25, 2013 02:11 am at 2:11 am |
  17. tom

    I would think shaking the hand was more respectful than just saluting...But I wouldn't call this guy exactly a doeboy that is in a foxhole in Afghanistan.

    May 25, 2013 02:11 am at 2:11 am |
  18. ex GOP

    don't you guys have any real problems?

    May 25, 2013 02:13 am at 2:13 am |
  19. Amy

    Dd anyone notice that he saluted the pilots? Watch closely. While hes not required to salute its just a sign of respect. But of course he didn't serve our country so respect of soldiers doesn't matter for him. Another reason why anyone elected president should have served. Can't wait until Odummy is gone. And anyone who thinks CNN does anything for the right obviously can't read. Lol.

    May 25, 2013 02:13 am at 2:13 am |
  20. Dino Moore

    It's not a big deal. Speaking as a Marine, Saluting can sometimes be dismissive coming from a superior officer. They sometimes pass you by saluting without even making eye contact and just toss you an obligatory salute so the fact the the POTUS thought enough to board AF2 then remember that he had passed the Corporal by and come back to offer a hand shake, it says a lot for his character. It goes to show once again that this is by far the most accessible president this country has ever known.

    May 25, 2013 02:14 am at 2:14 am |
  21. Cato

    The president is NOT being saluted! The ultimate authority of the office of the president as commander-in-chief is being acknowledged, Any superior military officer out of uniform known to the lower ranking member would NOT be saluted, and it is the same for the president. Similarly the penultimate authority of service or defense secretaries and the VP is acknowledged when saluted, NOT the individual. It was improper and arrogant for Reagan to begin to salute and absent a uniform or some ceremonial badge of rank worn the salute properly ought not to be returned.

    May 25, 2013 02:15 am at 2:15 am |
  22. Ted

    Diggin for controversy is what I call this...

    May 25, 2013 02:17 am at 2:17 am |
  23. Anonymous

    this isn't news

    May 25, 2013 02:17 am at 2:17 am |
  24. Dr. Roy Boutwell

    I am a disabled veteran of the Viet Nam War Era. In January 2008,President George W. Bush signed into law a change in the U.S. Flag code that now allows both vetreans and active service men and women to salutethe flag without wearing military dress atire. I salute the flag during the National Anthem out of respect for it, my nation , and my friends who made the ultimate sacrifice. The President of the United States is the commander-in-chief of all service personnel, so how can his salute be an over-militarization of the presidency. That statement is kind of of an oxymoron isn't it? Not returning a salute to the president which is required by service personnel, is disrespectful, unpatriotic, and downright classless!

    May 25, 2013 02:17 am at 2:17 am |
  25. barbie

    Absolutely yes – as the commander in chief – the president should salute his Marine standing guard. President Reagan understood the respect and began a great tradition. I am sorry to see the lack of respect and courtesy.

    May 25, 2013 02:19 am at 2:19 am |
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