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. k

    if it was a tradition started by Reagan, the good thing is to no longer do it, Reagan was the worst president in the history of the US and anything that he was for should be eliminated

    May 24, 2013 07:23 pm at 7:23 pm |
  2. Calco

    I've always thought it kind of odd that the POTUS salutes, but he (or someday perhaps she) is the Commander so yeah, I suppose he can do whatever he wants in this regard, although at least Reagan and the Bushes had military experience in their background. When I see the POTUS salute with a clenched fist over his chest in the Roman fashion, then I'll worry.

    May 24, 2013 07:24 pm at 7:24 pm |
  3. MS

    I used to hate watching presidents give their silly weird salutes which looked highly contrived, and purely to put on a show for the cameras! Obama's handshake is genuine and seems good-natured! Thanks for making a mountain of a a molehill!

    May 24, 2013 07:24 pm at 7:24 pm |
  4. card1122

    He showed more respect, he said words and shook the man's hand. Come on...

    May 24, 2013 07:24 pm at 7:24 pm |
  5. JHVogel

    Of course, salute. It is an acknowledgement of rank/office, and the President of the USA is the Commander and Chief......

    May 24, 2013 07:25 pm at 7:25 pm |
  6. Woody Hilliard

    Presidents call. Either one indicates respect and as we know, has not always been the custom to salute.

    May 24, 2013 07:25 pm at 7:25 pm |
  7. jeremiah

    Not a problem at all. He was not in the uniform and a handshake is a form of respect too.

    May 24, 2013 07:25 pm at 7:25 pm |
  8. Alan Dunstan

    Militarily speaking, the subordinate always starts the salute process. The article did not state that the military officers saluted Obama first, so it's not like he failed to return a salute.

    May 24, 2013 07:25 pm at 7:25 pm |
  9. Dave

    GOP pees them selves and prepares to flog this horse until dead. Meanwhile they continue to do nothing.

    May 24, 2013 07:26 pm at 7:26 pm |
  10. Harry dickenballs

    We are so silly.

    May 24, 2013 07:26 pm at 7:26 pm |
  11. Ken

    Return the salute, it's a simple sign of respect for the people who risk their lives defending this country.

    May 24, 2013 07:26 pm at 7:26 pm |
  12. marsilius

    Thirty-two years is an awfully brief "tradition."

    May 24, 2013 07:27 pm at 7:27 pm |
  13. michael wrightson

    Muslims do not know how to salute.

    May 24, 2013 07:27 pm at 7:27 pm |
  14. hewhoseethes

    Just about all worthless news coverage such as this only distracts from real problems and getting anything productive done as a nation...much like the issue of who can marry who...its important..but not a big priority for the country..and most of these issues have nothing to do with how he does his job..we nitpick at every little thing because no1 is on the same page!

    May 24, 2013 07:28 pm at 7:28 pm |
  15. GI Joe

    Let's all yell it now in unison "Impeach that Black Man".
    Any real news today? I clipped my nails. Both hands and feet. uh – oh - I was trying to cover that up.

    May 24, 2013 07:29 pm at 7:29 pm |
  16. GP007

    Much ado about nothing. Those who have a severe dislike of Obama will hold this up as further evidence that he is unfit for office. These persons are beyond engaging in any rational discussions.

    May 24, 2013 07:29 pm at 7:29 pm |
  17. John in Brooklyn

    As commander-in-chief the president – any president – should have the civilian and military authority to establish protocol simply by his/her behavior. After all, when Queen Elizabeth walks around with a dowdy purse that my mother would be caught dead seen's royal protocol simply by virtue of her choosing it to be so.

    May 24, 2013 07:29 pm at 7:29 pm |
  18. Walter

    How dare anyone disparage Obo The Clown. They are clearly racist.

    May 24, 2013 07:29 pm at 7:29 pm |

    Unusual salute.

    May 24, 2013 07:30 pm at 7:30 pm |
  20. Joe

    Is anyone really suprised? He has been the absolut worst Commander in Chief in our Nation's history – worse than Carter and far worse than Clinton. Should he have saluted – of course he should have. That Marine stands there not just for the President of the USA and Commander in Chief; he stands there for all of us who have served and who are still serving – the men and women of the US Armed Forces. He better damn well salute – it is the ultimate sign of respect! He can shake hands after he salutes, but salute he must.

    May 24, 2013 07:30 pm at 7:30 pm |
  21. Mike

    You are not suppose to salute unless in uniform. At least not in 1977, it's been awhile. Eisenhower probably did it out of reflex.

    May 24, 2013 07:31 pm at 7:31 pm |


    May 24, 2013 07:31 pm at 7:31 pm |
  23. Proud Marine Corps Disabled Veteran

    Obvoiusly the former comment from the "Former" Military Officer above was not a Marine! Marines are called "The Presidents Own" the ONLY branch of military that he can activate without congress on his command alone! That is why he is vuarded by Marines! To fail to salute your Marines is the ULTIMATE DISRESPECT from the commander in Chief that you vow to serve and Obey to the point of Death! This on the Memorial Day weekend,when he is to remember those that sacrificed their lives,especially of HIS OWN that report and commanded by him direclty is beyond disrespect! To offer to shake his hand is even worse! It's adding salt onthe wound! He should know this! Whats more upsetting is he saluted the pilot of his helicopter indoors and yet failed to salute the leatherneck standing guard for him! I am insulted for my brother Marine! I am offended beyond belief! If you fail to salute in The Corps you are court Martialed! He has no idea the rift he just created nor the pain felt Marine Corps wide for our brother! i am ashamed to call him Commander in Chief, this will never be forgetten! Shame on you Barak.. i just lost all respect for you and wouldn't guard you myself!

    May 24, 2013 07:31 pm at 7:31 pm |
  24. Bill Boles

    I don't know of many military folk, active or retired, who care what Obama does as "symbol" to them. What they know is that he cares only about those issues affecting him as they pertain to his politics and symbolism.

    May 24, 2013 07:32 pm at 7:32 pm |
  25. USMCjoe

    "It's become tradition for presidents to salute the military officers he encounters when boarding the official helicopter."

    The Marine pictured in the article is not an Officer (the President's Guard is usually a Marine NCO). An important distinction that the author should have noticed prior to writing up an entire article surrounding the travesty of an unreturned salutes.

    May 24, 2013 07:32 pm at 7:32 pm |
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