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. johnny57

    This is very petty. I suppose somebody wants to court martial him for this? I can't believe they put this on the front page.

    May 25, 2013 11:29 am at 11:29 am |
  2. Gabriel

    i agree with some comments below as its stated "But to not salute is not a break in protocol or a violation of any rule." which makes the rest a matter of opinion.
    Everyone can sometimes forget whats the customary protocol for things, especially when you have to run a country, but the fact that he asked the pilots to wait and came back down from the helicopter in order to Shake the Hand of this soldier says more to me than the fact that it slipped by when going on board.

    Saludos de Panama

    May 25, 2013 11:34 am at 11:34 am |
  3. calvin

    Seriously ??? We're making a big discussion about the President shaking hands and not saluting ?? If I had been that Marine, I would have done my job (stand at attention and salute, then drop the salute), and then very cordially accept the President's handshake. We have WAY more important things to worry about.

    May 25, 2013 11:34 am at 11:34 am |
  4. DavM

    Obama is supporting illegal aliens taking our money and jobs , he does not respect America-its people or military.

    May 25, 2013 11:35 am at 11:35 am |
  5. Greg

    Paul, I am a republican. I just comment before you. This is CNN website, not Fox! I think the President has made many mistakes and people in his administration should probably be in jail, this just isn't an issue. Pres. Obama obviously forgot to salute the marine and apologized. I think you are more of the problem than repubs.

    May 25, 2013 11:36 am at 11:36 am |
  6. stephen c, horvath

    as a former basic marine who is the son of a former marine master sergeant not to salute the marine guard outside his helicopter to me was an insult and may have hurt the feelings of that marine. who was waiting for his salute back from the president. sad. whats wrong with our president these days? he needs our prayers. but a handshake was b etter than a kiss. but a salute would have been more proper and traditional to our military personnel. go marines! semper-ri mac! ha! and GUNG_HO! OOH_RA!

    May 25, 2013 11:36 am at 11:36 am |
  7. jean robert Latortue

    Since it is not required by Protocol ,why is it news ? Polarizing Gossip or Journalism?

    May 25, 2013 11:37 am at 11:37 am |
  8. Celeste

    One thing is certain, President Obama is the Commander in Chief and what he chooses to do is alright with me. why must we try to tear apart a President who cares. where is the love!

    May 25, 2013 11:39 am at 11:39 am |
  9. steve

    as long as there is some acknowledgement it don't matter if its a handshake or salute. Just don't get off Marine One with your cell phone planted in your face.

    May 25, 2013 11:40 am at 11:40 am |
  10. Anonymous

    As a 20 year military veteran I have had officers in a hurry miss my salute (and I have done the same) is not a slight it just means out of the 30-40 people a day he salutes he missed one while the cameras were rolling...get over it!

    May 25, 2013 11:41 am at 11:41 am |
  11. Loyalright

    The Gift that keeps on giving.

    May 25, 2013 11:44 am at 11:44 am |
  12. nicinnc

    A civilian president forgot a military custom that had not been in ingrained in his behavior, went back, apologized and shook the Marine's hand like a sincere person. That is classy.
    It isn't like he invaded a country on trumped up false intelligence and got that kid and tens of thousands of others like him maimed, burned, and killed.

    May 25, 2013 11:45 am at 11:45 am |
  13. toadstool

    You really shouldn't salute or be saluted if you're not in uniform.

    May 25, 2013 11:48 am at 11:48 am |
  14. ral

    Who cares !
    He isn't much of a Commander in Chief or Leader Anyway!

    May 25, 2013 11:50 am at 11:50 am |
  15. cpc65

    Either way, at least he acknowledged the man. I feel a handshake is more personal than just a salute.

    May 25, 2013 11:53 am at 11:53 am |
  16. Craig

    I'm no fan of Obama, but man give the guy a break. He was oblivious to his presence. he saluted the guys immediately inside. Upon realizing his mistake he went down and apologies. If you listen to the audio, he says he didn't see him standing there. In this case, a hand shake and apology from the president of the united states is worth more then a customary salute in my book.

    May 25, 2013 11:53 am at 11:53 am |
  17. Russ

    The President is the man at the top of the pyramid. Every military person must salute him. It is not required that he salute back, though since this is a democracy, presidents usually do to acknowledge their contributions.

    May 25, 2013 11:53 am at 11:53 am |
  18. Helen

    Why is this a story???? A handshake is a perfectly appropriate and respected way of acknowledging a person or suggesting a compliment. Please find something more worthy to write about when you want to nit-pick everything a president does.

    May 25, 2013 11:55 am at 11:55 am |
  19. Anonymous

    @Former Regular Army

    As commander in chief, any presidential candidate should be required to have military service.
    Protocol does not require the President to salute or shake the Marine's hand. The President is always gracious and polite.

    Many of our finest Presidents have not served in the military yet managed warfare quite well – FDR comes to mind. President Obama listens to his Joint Staff, leverages technology, understands and applies intelligence data, and takes decisive action with wisdom and maturity. A a vet of 34 years service I do not feel military service is necessary for our CINC. I don't want a leader who "likes" war.

    May 25, 2013 11:56 am at 11:56 am |
  20. Anonymous

    How did this make CNN News

    May 25, 2013 11:56 am at 11:56 am |
  21. Jean

    The corporal on duty has an obligation to salute the Commander in Chief as he would any other officer in the military. He is required to hold the salute until the officer returns the salute or passes beyond his area of influence. Normally the officer returns the salute allowing the guard to release his salute. But I agree that this is not a requirement of the president. Something else happens here, though. The president may be preoccupied with something on his mind, I will give him this benefit of the doubt. But, I notice that at the top of the step, he executes a salute to the officers piloting the craft. Only then, he recalls the NCO on the ground and returns to shake his hand. I have no doubt that a person with military experience would have acknowledged the NCO immediately with a salute or a nod of the head without really giving it any thought. It would be more ingrained in his subconscious. The president does not have the experience to fall back on. My opinion is, yes, it is a gaff that the president didn't acknowledge the soldier, but it is not earth shaking. The NCO is a professional and will thank the president for his consideration.

    May 25, 2013 11:58 am at 11:58 am |

    The President has three scandals brewing at the white house, the economy, a war, Drones, Republicans watching every move and he forgot to salute the marine, but immediately came out and shook his hand. To me that was classy and not a negative, for him to care enough to come out and acknowledge the Marine. Most Presidents would not have cared enough to step back out of the Helicopter. I am an eight year veteran with two wars under my belt, I guarantee you the Marine didn't even realize he didn't get a salute back because he was at attention and his eyes fixed forward. This President is a class act period.

    May 25, 2013 11:59 am at 11:59 am |
  23. Kevin O.

    If you're not military and/or have never served your country, your opinion on this matter is irrelevant.

    May 25, 2013 12:00 pm at 12:00 pm |
  24. More CNN Morons on display

    What all of you whining assses are omitting is that the President isn't saluting the troops.

    He is RETURNING their salute, which they are REQUIRED to render to their Commander in Chief.

    It's common courtesy at the very least for the CinC to acknowldege them.

    May 25, 2013 12:00 pm at 12:00 pm |
  25. LivinginVA

    Eisenhower did not return salutes when he was President. It started with Reagan – whose military aide told him it was inappropriate.

    May 25, 2013 12:01 pm at 12:01 pm |
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