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. j. m. clark

    how is this news? a salute, a handshake, they're both a sign of respect. i

    May 25, 2013 04:15 am at 4:15 am |
  2. donAzamato

    Better Late that Never, so Obama's action is respectful and honorable

    May 25, 2013 04:17 am at 4:17 am |
  3. Glenn Beck

    Duh. He is the C&C. He should salute. Also not bow to Saudi kings.

    May 25, 2013 04:19 am at 4:19 am |
  4. panders0n

    The President should NOT salute anyone. He is the Commander-in-Chief of the military and as such he outranks anyone in uniform. I liked Reagan but he was no soldier and by saluting, he showed his ignorance of proper military protocol.

    May 25, 2013 04:21 am at 4:21 am |
  5. Beth

    Who sparked the debate ? He is the commander in chief he can decide what he wants to do salute or shake a hand, it is an honor to receive either by him.

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

    APU stands for Auxiliary power unit, not aerial power unit

    May 25, 2013 04:28 am at 4:28 am |
  7. Regis

    I truly enjoy these slow news days.

    May 25, 2013 04:37 am at 4:37 am |
  8. John Smith

    Anything this president does comes under scrutiny. He could sneeze and we'd see a GOP response, the democrat's reaction, and an opinion piece from various media sources talking about how this is right and/or wrong for America. Cut the man some slack already.

    May 25, 2013 04:37 am at 4:37 am |
  9. sean n

    He is trator he does not care about anyone but his own people..impeach him now then send him to his own ppl.

    May 25, 2013 04:39 am at 4:39 am |
  10. Nelson Hill

    I admire humility, my own and that in others. Great leaders embody it without diminishing their standing when honoring others. President Obama seems to have ample room for growth

    May 25, 2013 04:43 am at 4:43 am |
  11. Bullpuppy

    In this debate, to salute is more symbolic of the lesser acknowledging publicly that the greater is in charge, while a handshake and some verbal conversation strikes a more personal note of equality.

    *waves hand* – This is not the scandal you are looking for. Move along.

    May 25, 2013 04:49 am at 4:49 am |
  12. Bullpuppy

    [ ] Failure to meet Expectations
    [ ] Meets Expectations
    [ ] Exceeds Expectations
    [x] Far Exceeds Expectations

    May 25, 2013 04:52 am at 4:52 am |
  13. lowie

    How nice of the president to shake the man's hand !!!!

    May 25, 2013 04:53 am at 4:53 am |
  14. anon

    As a veteran of OEF, this president sickens me.

    May 25, 2013 04:55 am at 4:55 am |
  15. Gurgyl

    I bet you do not have any news....

    May 25, 2013 04:59 am at 4:59 am |
  16. Jendro

    The Marine most likely appreciated the special effort of his CIC's apology and handshake more than one of those sloppy perfunctory salutes. Both deserve to be saluted.

    May 25, 2013 05:02 am at 5:02 am |
  17. AAM

    R U KIDDING ME !!!

    How is this even news worthy ?

    I am ex-military. I have no issue with the President shaking a soldier's hand.

    Oh and this article is WRONG - the marine pictured are not military officers... they are enlisted personnel.

    You don't salute them ANYWAYS. if you really want to get down to "protocol"

    He shook a soldier's hand... get over it.. and stop publishing ludicrous articles.

    May 25, 2013 05:14 am at 5:14 am |
  18. JoeOvercoat

    No, the President should not salute: his unique position as civilian and leader does not allow for that exchange.

    May 25, 2013 05:15 am at 5:15 am |
  19. Natch

    No common sense, no class, no respect. Typical "leadership" qualities of our current resident of the White House.

    I wouldn't be surprised if that Marine later washed his hand, quite thoroughly.

    May 25, 2013 05:16 am at 5:16 am |
  20. LS

    The lower-ranking person salutes the higher-ranking person, and holds the salute until the one of higher rank acknowledges the salute with his own salute. True, a military person doesn't salute out of uniform. However, the president is not a military person. It was a break in a loose tradition. However, the president did greet the soldier when he realized he had just walked by him. That was far more validating than an automatic salute.

    May 25, 2013 05:19 am at 5:19 am |
  21. CWT

    A salute from Obama is meaningless.

    May 25, 2013 05:27 am at 5:27 am |
  22. Romeo Zapata

    jajaja,, this article miss the point, Mr. Obama did not put attention to the Marine Salute, after he realize it, decided to go back and amend his mistake of over looking the salute the Marine offer to him.

    May 25, 2013 05:27 am at 5:27 am |
  23. JCR69

    It is nice that the President salutes our military in appreciation of their service or a form of "thanks and respect" for those who serve. In in this case it is my opinion he came back off the helicopter to indeed thank that young Marine for his service. It would be interesting to find out from the Marine what the President had to say to him.

    May 25, 2013 05:28 am at 5:28 am |
  24. fl2007rn

    Who expects Obama to respect or understand anything about the military? Remember when he didn't know how to pronounce "Corpsman" during one of his speeches. I don't expect Obama to get any better during his 2nd term. What a loser.

    May 25, 2013 05:29 am at 5:29 am |
  25. Leon Barber

    Of course, the President of the USA should return a military persons salute. He bows to Kings and Queens all over the world. Returning a salute is the honorable thing to do.

    May 25, 2013 05:34 am at 5:34 am |
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