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. Peter Harmsen [the Netherlands]

    Saluting [as in the traditional military way of greeting a superior] should only be done while in uniform including donning headwear. When in uniform WITHOUT headwear, one's head should be abrubtly turned into the direction of the person to be greeted. Saluting when out of uniform is not correct and against etiquettes, regardless who you are ,period.

    May 25, 2013 03:19 pm at 3:19 pm |
  2. Richard

    Dumb article, must be a slow news day. I'd rather have the President shake my hand than salute and it's not like he doesn't salute all the other times. This is an article in search of a story. I'm sure the Tea Party will take this and run with it as another indication that the Commander in Chief doesn't respect the military or some other ridiculous assertion.

    May 25, 2013 03:20 pm at 3:20 pm |
  3. Jeremy

    I can't stand Obama. I find him to be absolutely two-faced. However, that being said, there was no wrong intended and no breach of protocol. He even went out of his way to correct his absolutely unintended "slight" against the marine. And I put "slight" in quotes only because I think he may have felt he may have caused offense to the marine, but I doubt the marine took any offense– and I'm sure that even if he did, it was completely removed when the president took the time to correct itin a very personal manner.

    May 25, 2013 03:24 pm at 3:24 pm |
  4. Vietvet

    I am a former U.S. Marine Captain. No military service branch respects protocol more that the U.S.Marines. A Marine salutes an officer holding a superior rank as a greeting. Then the Marine who received the salute is OBLIGATED to return it as a greeting. The only return greeting received by a Marine from his Commander in Chief better than a salute would be a handshake by the President of the United States.

    May 25, 2013 03:25 pm at 3:25 pm |
  5. Vickie

    Not an Obama fan but it's oblivious he didn't do that on purpose. If offended by it shake yourself.

    May 25, 2013 03:25 pm at 3:25 pm |
  6. Fish

    No Respect on Memorial Day. That's what's wrong and Obama is the example

    May 25, 2013 03:28 pm at 3:28 pm |
  7. Fish

    And I see a bunch of Apologists

    May 25, 2013 03:30 pm at 3:30 pm |
  8. johnharry

    Last I heard the MARINE security department were umbrella holders

    May 25, 2013 03:32 pm at 3:32 pm |
  9. Jeffrey Clark

    As a Veteran and Republican , What President Obama did was Honorable. We all get zone out at times and not notice things around us. President Obama realized his error and went to the Corporal and apologized . President Obama this is one of the few times that I am Proud of you. Good JOB SIR.

    May 25, 2013 03:32 pm at 3:32 pm |
  10. jeff tucker

    i think that sometimes the salute becomes just a matter of fact gesture that for a commander in chief, or any officer at that matter, taking the time to acknowledge a service member, enough to shake his / her hand, is a good thing. it is the choice of the higher rank. telling the grandchildren one day that you "got a salute from the president" is overshadowed by "the president shook my hand."

    May 25, 2013 03:33 pm at 3:33 pm |
  11. GI Joe

    Bush ran around pretending to be a patriot - like he pretended he was president.

    May 25, 2013 03:38 pm at 3:38 pm |
  12. carloooos

    OK here's my 2 cents...there are so many problems in the world that need to be solved. Relative to this issue...WHO CARES?

    May 25, 2013 03:38 pm at 3:38 pm |
  13. Corie

    I agree with Helen. Knock off the nit -picking.

    May 25, 2013 03:40 pm at 3:40 pm |
  14. Chester

    That's auxiliary power unit, not aerial power unit. It's a small turbine engine / generator set that powers the avionics, lighting and air conditioning while on the ground.

    I agree with Craig, the handshake & apology would be more memorable that the standard salute.

    I also agree with President Reagan, the commander-in-chief salutes uniformed personnel.

    May 25, 2013 03:40 pm at 3:40 pm |
  15. Joseph Connell

    He can do whatever he wants to do and he should not be criticized for whatever he does as long as it is respectful.

    May 25, 2013 03:41 pm at 3:41 pm |
  16. Corie

    Let the president do his job with out the catty remarks

    May 25, 2013 03:42 pm at 3:42 pm |
  17. Mike

    Hey, I don't like this President, however, I don't believe that he was in any way out of line in the actions outlined in this story. We COULD talk about many areas that he is most CERTAINLY out of line, but this story is petty! Please!

    May 25, 2013 03:42 pm at 3:42 pm |
  18. YeahRight

    I'm fine with it. The President is not a military officer, or even a member of the military, and has no business wearing a uniform or saluting military officers and enlisted men.

    May 25, 2013 03:45 pm at 3:45 pm |
  19. sam

    I'm enlisted active duty in the US Navy, and I would gladly accept a handshake over a salute any day from my superiors and definitely the president

    May 25, 2013 03:48 pm at 3:48 pm |
  20. Al

    I am retired military vet myself. If a superior officer did not return my salute I took no offense at least I did my part. Obviously the President realized the mistake and corrected it with a handshake. Remember President Obama was never in the military.. If it was President Eisenhower who was an Army General, maybe this would be a military protocol issue and a minor one at that.. This does not even need to be a debated.

    May 25, 2013 03:50 pm at 3:50 pm |
  21. Zack Rice

    This is a ridiculous "controversy" – the POTUS does not have to salute, and frankly as a civilian commander-in-chief and not a military officer saluting tends towards more inappropriate than not. There is probably no real harm in it, but to call the man out for not doing is nonsense.

    May 25, 2013 03:50 pm at 3:50 pm |
  22. Papa T

    Must've been a slow news day?...Having served 13 years in the Marine Corps I must say that a handshake from the President of the United States would have been awesome and frankly, more personal than a salute a few meters away. I think President Obamo has "bigger fish to fry." I am not a big fan, but we need to give the guy a break on petty things like this.

    May 25, 2013 03:51 pm at 3:51 pm |
  23. Chris

    Give the President some slack. This shouldn't even be news.
    It's amazing at Americans have one of the best Presidents, ever, yet give him such a hard time. I can't even begin to imagine the amount of stress he's under, and the amount of always critically important things he has on his mind. Regardless, he does NOT have to salute, he (and the office the President) is to be respected and saluted.

    May 25, 2013 03:55 pm at 3:55 pm |
  24. sam111

    BFD! In the military when I served, officers did not always return the salute nor were they required to.A handshake and an apology tops a cursory salute in my book.

    May 25, 2013 03:56 pm at 3:56 pm |
  25. SoCal1

    The President has a lot on his mind. What, you never forget to do anything when your're stressed out ? Good gesture to get off to shake his hand. He obviously acknowledged his mistake and cared.

    May 25, 2013 04:00 pm at 4:00 pm |
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