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. HZ

    The President did nothing wrong. But that time when Hillary Clinton was 1st lady and she made Marines dress in strange colors that matched some dinner party decorations.. THAT WAS WRONG.

    May 25, 2013 01:08 pm at 1:08 pm |
  2. Usher73

    Obama is a civilian. He shouldn't be saluting at all.

    May 25, 2013 01:10 pm at 1:10 pm |
  3. waw

    You are not supposed to solute without a cover on...a handshake is a higher honor from the President.

    May 25, 2013 01:12 pm at 1:12 pm |
  4. Steve

    He absolutely should salute the marine. Goes right along with all his other mishaps, it shows who he really is. Remember "the cops acted stupidly" remark, bowing to foreign dictators and a number of others. That's our president, anti-american, anti-authority. He's the smartest person in the room, just ask him.

    May 25, 2013 01:12 pm at 1:12 pm |
  5. Dona

    CNN might better spend it's time on solid investigative reporting fulfilling the responsibility of its 1st amendment rights rather than instigating more problems in a polarized nation.

    May 25, 2013 01:12 pm at 1:12 pm |
  6. Chuck

    The President – The Commander in Chief – stopped, paused, said a brief word and shook the hand of this young Marine. Give the man a break. That Marine will remember that one moment much longer than failing to return a salute.

    May 25, 2013 01:14 pm at 1:14 pm |
  7. Ezequiel(zeke) G.

    As a civilian I don`t think is proper to salute military personnel when not wearing uniform.

    May 25, 2013 01:14 pm at 1:14 pm |
  8. Smeagel4T

    No doubt this will be good for about a week on FoxNews. Rush will stretch it out longer. Alex Jones may not have time to rant about it. He is too busy letting everybody know that President Obama sent the tornados to destroy Oklahoma.

    May 25, 2013 01:15 pm at 1:15 pm |
  9. soulbird

    I wish the media stop looking at the president through a micro glass. this is redickleless. people have nothing better to do than to pick and point the president (mainly because he's a man of color, especially being black) you just can't get over that. it's sad to fight a person that's trying to help this country that includes every man and women. I'm retired military. it is required for lower rank noncommissioned personnel to salute all officers. Those officers in the grade of colonel thru 4 star general have a choice to saluate or not to salute. a lot of time wing commanders do not salute back. to the media: if you're so dim about the president and what he is: He is a human being and deserve respect just like you would like respect.

    May 25, 2013 01:17 pm at 1:17 pm |
  10. Kenny

    In the Navy, of which the Marines are part of, last time I checked, it is not proper to salute when uncovered, that is, not wearing a hat. Other branches of the military may have different protocols but in this case, technically, the marine is the one that shouldn't have to violate his rules of uniform justice. So, as usual, it takes two to tango – they're both wrong in my book! The corporal for saluting and the president for apologizing. 🙂

    May 25, 2013 01:18 pm at 1:18 pm |
  11. John B

    Military law says you salute officers and the President of the United States of America, And they dont have to render a salute, i have met many officers who were full of themselves while i served and never returned the salute, but the first time i forgot because it was 5am and i had to go use the bathroom in iraq in 2003 i got in trouble. But anyways they dont need to salute back.

    May 25, 2013 01:20 pm at 1:20 pm |
  12. Rs1201

    There's plenty of things to blame Obama for but this is not one of them. He's not a military man and saluting does not come naturally.
    I'm more interested in his responses to the IRS, AP, and Benghazi scandals.

    May 25, 2013 01:23 pm at 1:23 pm |
  13. Thom

    When I served in the military it was taught one doesn't salute when uncovered(without at hat) and one doesn't salute civiilians.

    May 25, 2013 01:24 pm at 1:24 pm |
  14. Ragin Cajun

    If you don't like how a particular President does things, then run for the office yourself. Become the most powerful person in the world and you can make whatever gestures you please.

    May 25, 2013 01:24 pm at 1:24 pm |
  15. Steven

    Marine General Chesty Puller once came upon a 2nd Lieutenant screaming at a private who was repeatedly saluting the young officer. When asked by Puller what was going on the Lieutenant replied, "Sir, this private failed to salute me as we passed on the parade grounds. As punishment I'm having him salute me 100 times." Puller responded by praising the Lieutenant but added, "Being the outstanding Marine officer you are– you'll return each and every one of those salutes, won't you?"

    May 25, 2013 01:25 pm at 1:25 pm |
  16. don

    People have WAY too much time on their hands. Obama is not more perfect than any other human. Relax!!

    May 25, 2013 01:25 pm at 1:25 pm |
  17. ManWithThe1000PoundBrain

    Whether or not is should be protocol–this sparks a debate? How ridiculous. I spent 24 years in the military and there had been plenty of times that superiors broke with protocol and shook the hands of their subordinates.

    May 25, 2013 01:25 pm at 1:25 pm |
  18. peterrumm

    This is a non story. The Commander and Chief has much on his mind. He can address that Marine or not. If you want to know about disrespect to our armed servicemen and woman consider sending them into a fake war in Iraq to be killed, maimed and mental damaged by the tens of thousands. That is disrespect.

    May 25, 2013 01:27 pm at 1:27 pm |
  19. Marc

    I'm no fan of Obama either (I can't wait until he's out of office) but I also think that picking this nit is just going too far. Having served 11 years in military service I recognize the importance of a military salute, but while the President is the Commander In Chief, he is still a civilian and, therefore, is NOT required to salute. Saluting the Marine guard has only recently been established and, in my opinion, cannot even be called a tradition.

    May 25, 2013 01:30 pm at 1:30 pm |

    Perhaps the CNN Political Unit could check and see which direction the President's napkin moves across his mouth at dinner. Would there be significance if it moved from left to right or right to left? Does it matter from whose perspective the act is viewed?

    May 25, 2013 01:30 pm at 1:30 pm |
  21. sjt

    Tradition is to salute the uniform and the rank it represents – The President of the United States is a civilian. A hand shake is much more respectful of POTUS of those who will take a bullet for the him/her

    May 25, 2013 01:33 pm at 1:33 pm |
  22. Michelle

    Why is this an outcry? The President (past, present and future) is the Commander-in-Chief to every military member and this position is rendered with a salute first, not the other way around. Every military member, including top military generals, are junior to the President and they must salute first so a handshake from the President displays a personal appreciation, not a military obligation. Thank you Mr. President for personally extending your appreciation to a Marine.

    May 25, 2013 01:34 pm at 1:34 pm |
  23. Larry B

    It is not official protocol for civilians to salute active duty military members.

    A salute is a recognition of rank and authority among active duty military members. Active duty officers salute other active duty officers of the same or higher rank, regardless of service. Officers of any rank are saluted by active duty enlisted members. As the article states, the president saluting Marines is more of an unofficial tradition than military protocol.

    May 25, 2013 01:34 pm at 1:34 pm |
  24. Tasch

    He found it appropriate to bow to a middle east autocrat, so what would be so hard to salute a defender of liberty who at a moment's notice could be asked to lay down his life? Who are you kidding Helen? Go back to the cave you crawled out of!

    May 25, 2013 01:36 pm at 1:36 pm |
  25. greg

    Since he is civilian he does not HAVE to salute the Marine. As the story said it's tradition. If he DID have to salute every marine, then he would not just be saluting the honor guard of Marine One. He would also have to salute all the Marines around the oval office and White House.

    ***CORRECTION on power unit name. That is NOT "Aerial" power unit. That is Auxiliary Power Unit or APU which powers the electronics and airconditioning/heating units on the helicopter and is also used to drive the hydraulic pumps to help spin up the main engines like on a aircraft.

    May 25, 2013 01:36 pm at 1:36 pm |
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