May 24th, 2013
04:14 PM ET
9 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. janey33

    Of course he isn't going to salute. He despises this country and our military. Very sad.

    May 25, 2013 03:25 am at 3:25 am |
  2. John

    To all you paranoid posters who think there is a grand conspiracy perpetrated by CNN to favor liberalism, posting a ridiculously inane story like this that will undoubtedly feed into the president-hating right completely disproves that particular theory, I'd say.

    May 25, 2013 03:26 am at 3:26 am |
  3. janey33

    Of course he isn't going to salute. He des pises this country and our military. Very sad.

    May 25, 2013 03:26 am at 3:26 am |
  4. Bill

    He looks a little preoccupied to me, and you know what? He probably is. He's the leader of the United States and there have been how many terrorist attacks in the last month, in the last week, in the last 24 hours? It'd be great if he remembered to salute the marine standing at the helicopter, I have no doubt that man deserves the respect. It'd be wonderful if our president had the time to shake hands and rememeber every person's name that serves around and for him, but I don't think it's realistic or a healthy priority for this country.
    I heard George Bush had an amazing ability to remember people's names, even down to the white house janitorial staff. I salute that, I do, but I'd honestly rather my president focus a little more on his job. After he leaves office he can do all the goodwill missions he wants.

    May 25, 2013 03:27 am at 3:27 am |
  5. L Gow

    It is a military "courtesy" for military men and women to render a salute to officers of higher rank. The officer returns the salute as a courtesy. The salute originating as a respectful sign of showing no weapon in-hand. President Obama is the "Commander-in-Chief" and saluted. Being the monarch, he can do whatever he likes courtesy or not.

    May 25, 2013 03:28 am at 3:28 am |
  6. Name Cain Velasquez

    Boo mr obama

    May 25, 2013 03:29 am at 3:29 am |
  7. Oregonian

    Bless his heart! What a kind gesture. Very nice of him to go back. ao thoughtful.He's got things on his mind. Everyone can forget things. He has way more important stuff to deal with! Good on him for remembering to acknowledge that serviceman. 🙂 Obama rocks!

    May 25, 2013 03:29 am at 3:29 am |
  8. roseternal

    Who cares!!! So what if he doesn't solute. Whatever. At least he gave a handshake. The president probablly has so much on his mind that it does not even matter. I could care less.

    May 25, 2013 03:31 am at 3:31 am |
  9. Dax Lara

    As a Marine we are trained to never salute without a cover (hat to civilians). So seeing a President (be it Obama, Bush or any other) not salute and instead offering a personal handshake to the Marine guard does not offend me one bit. In fact I respect the gesture even more so.

    May 25, 2013 03:31 am at 3:31 am |
  10. John David Crawford

    The President is not in uniform; therefore, a handshake is respectable and respectful. The President's choice to salute or shake hands should not be fodder for the news mills. There are far more important issues for reporters to focus on.

    May 25, 2013 03:34 am at 3:34 am |
  11. Steve C

    who cares??

    May 25, 2013 03:37 am at 3:37 am |
  12. eamon

    Juat because Ronald Reagan of all people started the salute bit,why should all presidents have to. They are not obliged to, so it is up to them . I think it is ridiculous.We are in a democracy.Dictators are very good at saluting.

    May 25, 2013 03:38 am at 3:38 am |
  13. Tony

    I'm a war veteran and a handshake leaves a more powerful positive impression than a salute, any day. The world needs more hand shakes.

    May 25, 2013 03:40 am at 3:40 am |
  14. nick

    This is such a non-story. What is it with CNN that you always end up going to the lowest common demoninator when you have a slow news day. This is shameful that you are even making a story out of this.

    May 25, 2013 03:40 am at 3:40 am |
  15. What in Sam Hill

    it's optional, i'd salute and then handshake.

    May 25, 2013 03:41 am at 3:41 am |
  16. What...

    I have seen him salute the military men and women standing in front of Marine One, Air Force One, etc in literally every other video.

    This is the first time he hasn't saluted (as far as I know). Give the man a break.

    May 25, 2013 03:44 am at 3:44 am |
  17. Anonymous


    May 25, 2013 03:45 am at 3:45 am |
  18. Sandy

    I think there are far more important things to worry about. Why all the distraction?

    May 25, 2013 03:49 am at 3:49 am |
  19. Floyd B.

    Out of touch leader.

    May 25, 2013 03:51 am at 3:51 am |
  20. Sandy Nuss

    I don't care if he does or does not, he just forgot, no big deal !

    May 25, 2013 03:54 am at 3:54 am |
  21. Spendlove

    A handshake from our dear President is as good as a salute as one needs to get.... at ease.

    May 25, 2013 03:54 am at 3:54 am |
  22. Gustav Fingado

    The President of the United States of America, as the leader of the free world, need not salute nor bow to anyone.

    May 25, 2013 04:02 am at 4:02 am |
  23. Army Specialist

    I'm sure the President was just really busy and had to be somewhere. (Shrugs Shoulders)

    May 25, 2013 04:04 am at 4:04 am |
  24. jOe

    He did... once he got in the chopper. Look closely... then he got out to speak to the marine.

    What a silly article... weekend must be slow.

    May 25, 2013 04:05 am at 4:05 am |
  25. Tim Taylor

    Gary, you are wrong about Bush. It's funny how this story is treated and how it was treated when Bush did the same thing.

    Bush comes back to return Marine's salute
    FOX NEWS CHANNEL Special Report | 11/30/01 |

    On tonight's Special Report with Brit Hume, (hosted by Jim Angle this evening), at the close of the show when they normally have some funny video clip, they showed President Bush and the First Lady on their way to Marine One to leave for Camp David for the weekend. Jim said "You will see the president notice something unusual on his way to Marine One".

    As the video starts, the First Lady is leading the way into the helicopter with the spaniel dog on the leash, and the president is right behind her with the Scotty on the leash.

    As the First Lady entered the chopper, the Marine at the gangway saluted and held his salute. The scottie the president was walking decided it wanted to squat right when he got to steps. The president pulled on its' leash, but the stubborn scottie persisted in squatting. The president bent down and scooped up the pooch and entered Marine One. After he entered the Marine cut his salute and returned to the position of attention.

    Moments later the president reemerged from the helicopter and out onto the steps. The Marine was standing at attention, head and eyes straight ahead. The president leaned over and tapped him on the left arm. The startled Marine turned his body toward the president and received his returned salute!

    I was so impressed by this true act of respect for our military people by our president! He really does get it. Most any other person of his staure would have just continued his journey, disregarding the neglected return salute. Not George W. Bush. He is earning the respect of the military community, not expecting it – as most would.

    May 25, 2013 04:13 am at 4:13 am |
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