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. John Lynch

    The President is not in uniform and is not covered (he doesn't have a hat on) so it is not appropriate for him to salute anyone. He can if he wants but it surely isn't necessary and is contrary to military protocol. We should look at video of senior military officers in civilian clothes and see if they salute (or return salutes) of gate guards or others.

    May 25, 2013 08:08 am at 8:08 am |
  2. Guido

    At least he didn't "High-5" or "fist bump".

    May 25, 2013 08:09 am at 8:09 am |
  3. GrendelBand

    Nope...only serving members of the military in uniform wearing hats should salute.

    May 25, 2013 08:10 am at 8:10 am |
  4. Larry

    This is news worthy ? The guy may be the President but he's still human.

    May 25, 2013 08:10 am at 8:10 am |
  5. Sandy

    I love seeing Presidents salute. It shows respect to the military. In the video it appears to me that the President "inadvertently forgot" to salute and I thought it was wonderful to see him go back and say something to him and shake his hand.

    May 25, 2013 08:13 am at 8:13 am |
  6. sreeni

    President Obama did the right thing. He again shows his human, caring nature. Way to go Chief!!!!

    May 25, 2013 08:14 am at 8:14 am |
  7. Scott

    IIt appears we as Americans have nothing better to do than worry about a salute from the President who, by the way, has never been in the military! I Think it is time we focus on why our country is in such an immoral decline direction. It all starts with to much dependency on the Government. Wake Up America !!!

    May 25, 2013 08:15 am at 8:15 am |
  8. Ken Dunlavy

    Absolutely he should

    May 25, 2013 08:18 am at 8:18 am |
  9. Gary P. Price

    That 30 seconds shows more about Pres. Obama's respect for the military of this nation, and his true nature as a person and a leader. In that one gesture the President provided a "screen shot" for all of us as honor those who have given "their last full measure" in service to the nation.

    May 25, 2013 08:19 am at 8:19 am |
  10. Marge

    The handshake may have meant more to the Marine than the salute – a handshake is personal. If there is going to be a debate let it be over something important like medical care for this Marine and others; the fiscal crisis and remedy; and so many other issues facing this country - let the House and Senate "debate" the important issues and make decisions that are not self-serving. Handshake "debate"? I think not a debate at all.

    May 25, 2013 08:19 am at 8:19 am |
  11. Isaac

    Tradition is setting this country back by decades of years, we have a progressive president. I bet that officer didn’t mind. I remember when a handshake held just as much weight as a contract. Way to President, way to go Marine!

    May 25, 2013 08:19 am at 8:19 am |
  12. sisi

    Gee, maybe its because he came to this country as an adult and does not know our ways.

    May 25, 2013 08:20 am at 8:20 am |
  13. Clay D

    Yes, without a doubt, he should salute. As a superior officer (Commander in Chief in his case), not returning a salute is disrespectful. He obviously realized his mistake (or was reminded by someone in the aircraft) and responded accordingly.

    May 25, 2013 08:22 am at 8:22 am |
  14. Colorado

    I swear this President could bring about world peace...cure cancer...and right the economy and the tea party trolls would stilll cry foul.

    May 25, 2013 08:26 am at 8:26 am |
  15. JamesS

    I think these responses say more about the people posting than they do about the article. First off, calling CNN an agent of the right wing is laughable. Second, the author didn't take a position on saluting; he described what happened, gave a short history of Presidential saluting, and asked "What do you think?"

    What I think is that as Commander-in-Chief, he can do as he wishes. Personally, I would neither want to be saluted or have my hand shaken by this terrible excuse for a President, but in the end it's his call.

    May 25, 2013 08:27 am at 8:27 am |
  16. Andrew

    I thought it was very heart-warming that the President got back off Marine-1 to shake the hand of the Marine. Especially since this is Memorial Day weekend. Such CLASS....

    May 25, 2013 08:27 am at 8:27 am |
  17. Perry Pinkley

    I have never agreed with the President offering a salute to anyone. I served USMC 77-81 at HQ in DC where there are a lot more officers than enlisted. When we wore our uniforms we nearly wore our arms out saluting. You couldn't throw a ham sandwich without hitting one. anyway, you salute a superior. The superior returns salutes, so the superior doesn't initiate. One also does not salute when out of uniform, ergo the President doesn't have a uniform and would never be saluted. This is just silly to even give any thought to. If the president wants to salute it's his right but not a slight if he doesn't

    May 25, 2013 08:28 am at 8:28 am |
  18. Don Henley

    If any presidents served in military, salute is appropriated. if never served in military, simply put your hand on you heart and nod would be suffice.

    May 25, 2013 08:28 am at 8:28 am |
  19. Sparknut

    As long as the President shows respect to those in uniform, who cares if he salutes or shakes their hands? Don't we have bigger issues to worry about?

    May 25, 2013 08:29 am at 8:29 am |
  20. Vince

    Who cares? President Obama showed concern and attention to the Marines and acknowledged them by shaking thier hand and talking to them. He is not required to salute as a civilian,

    May 25, 2013 08:31 am at 8:31 am |
  21. eric mccallum

    He is not a real president so it really does not matter

    May 25, 2013 08:32 am at 8:32 am |
  22. dude

    could he have saluted then made the hadnshake. maybe that would have been a better choice. but hindsight is 20/20.

    May 25, 2013 08:32 am at 8:32 am |
  23. Dave

    Since the President is Commander-in-Chief, shouldn't the Marine salute him?

    May 25, 2013 08:34 am at 8:34 am |
  24. NavionKen

    Civiians do not salute. They can only acknowledge, as they should. That is best done with a handshake, a tip of the hat,
    or the hand over the heart in the presence of Old Glory.
    For any civilian, including a Commander In Chief who never served in the U.S. military (nor will his daughters), any salute
    to any U.S. service person in uniform is a taudry gesture that is unappreciated by the recipient given the status of the
    giver, and pathetically flippant given the vapid and ignoble history of the giver.

    May 25, 2013 08:34 am at 8:34 am |
  25. Bobbie Walton

    I suppose this question is important to some people, but really? We don't have more important stuff to discuss? My belief is we focus on little things, nitpick when we don't want to face the scary things we see creeping up on us.

    May 25, 2013 08:35 am at 8:35 am |
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