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. Connie

    Would George Bush or Mitt Romney been called out on the same issue? MOST DEFINITELY!

    Besides why would he salute when there is no rule about that except common courtesy when he insisted that TWO Marines break military rules by holding umbrellas?

    May 25, 2013 02:19 pm at 2:19 pm |
  2. John

    It must be a slow news day for the press to make something out of a handshake. If he mooned everyone out of the door of the helo, now that would be news!

    May 25, 2013 02:20 pm at 2:20 pm |
  3. Mike

    Yikes, I am no fan of this President, but this is not a story. He missed the salute, then went back out after he realized it. CNN please put an end to these ridiculous stories. Focus on objective quality reporting, not this kind of stuff. I am military by the way. The media, I believe without knowing it, goes a long way towards making us the laughingstock of the world.

    May 25, 2013 02:24 pm at 2:24 pm |
  4. U.S. Citizen

    There is too much marginalization of etiquette and the rule of law already.
    The President sets the tone of the civilian population when it comes to appreciating the willing sacrifice of our military personnel.

    May 25, 2013 02:27 pm at 2:27 pm |
  5. Bob

    Anyone, including the President, not previously military DO NOT salute (actually a clarification in a GW Bush directive), Presidents have the OPTION to salute. Going on–give the Marines, et al a break. enough of this rigid, impersonal ritual to a uniform. This Marine needs a handshake and a HUG for their commitment and dedication and isolation from the general public.

    May 25, 2013 02:28 pm at 2:28 pm |
  6. David G

    He didn't have to come down from the helicopter Nor did he have to apologizes. He is a class Act.

    I have my grand kids, acknowledge everyone when they enter a room. Shake their hands. To me this is a sign of respect.

    May 25, 2013 02:29 pm at 2:29 pm |
  7. mainepotter

    Who cares?

    May 25, 2013 02:30 pm at 2:30 pm |
  8. Kendra Roberts

    Yes.......that was so President Obama to shake the Marine's hand---he's just a super nice guy, and I'm very proud to have someone like him as the President of our United States!!!!

    May 25, 2013 02:35 pm at 2:35 pm |
  9. Gravee

    Out of respect to the military the President returns a salute. As a veteran though I think it is more appropriate for a president to place his hand over his heart as an acknowledgement instead of a salute as in the pledge of allegiance.

    May 25, 2013 02:40 pm at 2:40 pm |
  10. willy

    story about nothing,,,

    May 25, 2013 02:41 pm at 2:41 pm |
  11. Evelyn

    Luckily the President didn't give the guy a fist bump with a big smile. now that would be news...

    May 25, 2013 02:41 pm at 2:41 pm |
  12. Gary

    NON STORY....Nothing better to write about?????

    May 25, 2013 02:44 pm at 2:44 pm |
  13. JL

    He broke no law, rule or regulation- not even a "long-held tradition!" He's the civilian President and though he's the civilian CIC-he is not a member of the military. Whatever suits him will do!

    May 25, 2013 02:46 pm at 2:46 pm |
  14. Anonymous

    "over militarization of the presidency"..... are these people insane??? .... The President is already the "COMMANDER-IN-CHIEF"... you cannot make a person more "militarized"... his will is the command for the armed forces.... there is no harm if he does or doesnot salute....

    May 25, 2013 02:46 pm at 2:46 pm |
  15. Dam

    Probably wasn't wearing an American flag pin either.

    May 25, 2013 02:56 pm at 2:56 pm |
  16. Freedom Storm

    "Contents" line item from the book "Tyranny is Fun" by Barry Soetoro

    Chapter 1 ... Pathway to Marshall Law

    May 25, 2013 02:58 pm at 2:58 pm |
  17. ruralvoice

    The salute issue didn't get my attention; however, I believe the "aerial" power unit is an AUXILIARY Power Unit. Right?

    May 25, 2013 02:59 pm at 2:59 pm |
  18. Senor Wallhopper

    Use them to hold your umbrella and then don't acknowledge their presence... Stay classy.

    May 25, 2013 02:59 pm at 2:59 pm |
  19. David

    I don't like the way he holds his fork, and the brand of socks he wears is ridiculous!

    May 25, 2013 03:01 pm at 3:01 pm |
  20. Jerry Zezas-CDE Business Consulting

    This is, contrary to what those who hate him would say, evidence that he is certainly not an elitist, but someone who appreciates those who work hard for our county-and shows it.

    The fact that a simple mistake would cause him to completely break with protocol, jog back down the stairs and acknowledge that Marine with a handshake, much to the Marine's obvious delight, says more about Obama and his humility than Fox News could every deny.

    I'll take a personal, one-to-one handshake over a perfunctory, impersonal salute every day of the week.

    May 25, 2013 03:05 pm at 3:05 pm |
  21. Larry L

    I'm always hearing the right-wingers whine about people "playing the race card" and at some level, that is done. But when I see posters desperately searching for some insignificant flaw, a minor mistep or careless word to use to discredit the President I can only assume they are motivated by an irrational hatred – in this case caused by racism. The man has done an honorable job and although everybody does not share his ideologies, he has done absolutely nothing to spawn the hatred we see from a small, radical segment of our society.

    May 25, 2013 03:13 pm at 3:13 pm |
  22. Phil B.

    Oh look, another one of these stories. At this point right-wingers are just looking for things to complain about. "Just look at the way he's breathing. Disgraceful!"

    May 25, 2013 03:13 pm at 3:13 pm |
  23. JamVee

    It appears to be a very sincere gesture by the President for this young Marine. The real story would be to ask the Marine how he felt about it!

    May 25, 2013 03:15 pm at 3:15 pm |
  24. lee

    What a bunch of headline waist my time. There's terrorism, global warming, unimaginable debt problems, North Korea, Asia. Not to forget the ammo and friends of Congress shortage. There are floods in Texas, Mid west tornado's, earth quakes in California, and molesters in uniform. Only a moron would make a give-a-care hand shake for a soldier into a national debate. O is not a soldier, he is a commander. If the commander chooses to give a shake or a high five it's the commander's prerogative. He didn't invade the wrong country, Didn't leave the citizenry without medical care, and wasn't born yesterday.

    May 25, 2013 03:15 pm at 3:15 pm |
  25. Alexander Collins

    Unless you're in the Air Force, saluting out of uniform is a breach of protocol. As a former Naval Officer, I remember our instructors literally complaining about presidents saluting out of uniform as it set a bad example, (unless saluting an air force member).

    May 25, 2013 03:18 pm at 3:18 pm |
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