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. Byron

    Obama should solute since he's the Commander in Chief. Handshaking is civilian-ish.

    May 24, 2013 07:32 pm at 7:32 pm |
  2. estheraspling

    I say, who cares? Shouldn't we be a little more concerned with our government intrusion on journalism?

    May 24, 2013 07:33 pm at 7:33 pm |
  3. Wally

    Big Deal..I'll take a handshake. He's the Commander-in Chief. If he wants to shake hands, so ok.

    May 24, 2013 07:34 pm at 7:34 pm |
  4. Hotice

    Civilians don't salute...end of story

    May 24, 2013 07:35 pm at 7:35 pm |
  5. Andrew

    The president should do whatever seems appropriate to him. What's most important is the president actually respects the service members, not that he displays a specific, consistent hand motion. Obama isn't a military dude so his first reaction was just a handshake, I see no issue.

    May 24, 2013 07:35 pm at 7:35 pm |
  6. Brad

    As a marine, I think a handshake says more than a salute. We salute because we have to, but a handshake shows genuine respect and common courtesy

    May 24, 2013 07:35 pm at 7:35 pm |
  7. BHO123

    The citizens of America should salute the president. I'm sure the Rethuglicans will try to spin this into a negative story, but the joke is on them. Obama is the greatest president the US has ever had.

    May 24, 2013 07:36 pm at 7:36 pm |
  8. John B.

    Im a staunch republican. It was a nice jesture for the president to take the short time to shake the marine's hand. There was no disrespect.

    May 24, 2013 07:36 pm at 7:36 pm |
  9. Anonymous

    Why is this news?

    May 24, 2013 07:36 pm at 7:36 pm |
  10. Paula

    I am a retired/disabled Veteran. I would gladly accept a handshake from our president. He does not have to salute anyone, he out ranks them all, as Commander in Chief!

    May 24, 2013 07:39 pm at 7:39 pm |
  11. Justin

    I don't like the guy, but as former military this is a non issue. The only issue would be as if it was slight against the marine, however the handshake was more then enough return of respect, if not more.

    May 24, 2013 07:39 pm at 7:39 pm |
  12. Bob Texas

    During my time in the U. S. Navy many times the officers would not return a salute. It is their choice like saying hello. All you President haters can make your comments but you are wrong. It is no big deal if he did not salute.

    May 24, 2013 07:39 pm at 7:39 pm |
  13. rev

    This is bigger than Benghazi , the IRS and AP combined ! Oh the humanity!!! Where is the fainting couch and the smellin' salts? I feels a swoon comin' on !

    May 24, 2013 07:39 pm at 7:39 pm |
  14. Kevin

    It's not really about what I think but more about what the Marine thought. Perhaps he might have felt insulted. If I were the President, I'd call and apologize.

    May 24, 2013 07:40 pm at 7:40 pm |
  15. MikeyT

    You don't salute when not in uniform. Also, the salute is a military thing. The president is a civilian. Reagan was better at acting the cowboy than he was at running the country, so he's not the best lead to follow.

    May 24, 2013 07:40 pm at 7:40 pm |
  16. Garreth Jones

    If you are not in the Military then a handshake is just fine. For Marines this is cool. 😉

    May 24, 2013 07:41 pm at 7:41 pm |
  17. Ryan

    The President isn't supposed to salute. Ronald Reagan was the one who made it "normal" for a President to do it.

    May 24, 2013 07:43 pm at 7:43 pm |
  18. Sledge

    The President didn't break any protocol. It's a hokey tradition started by Reagan. If it were me, I'd end it. Marines don't do that (salute uncovered or in civilian attire). In my humble opinion, it's as sappy as when a movie ends with a salute that's supposed to tug at your heart strings (think "Saving Private Ryan") but just makes you groan at the abused cliché.

    May 24, 2013 07:44 pm at 7:44 pm |
  19. Jake

    It's called an 'auxiliary power unit (APU)'. Have no idea where this aerial power unit comes from.

    May 24, 2013 07:45 pm at 7:45 pm |
  20. rob thomason

    I am not an Obama fan in any way but.

    I do support him shaking hands, it is more personal and less cold.

    May 24, 2013 07:45 pm at 7:45 pm |
  21. Slow news day, huh?

    I get the feeling there are more important things going on in the world, other than this.

    May 24, 2013 07:46 pm at 7:46 pm |
  22. Chung Kim

    Obama has no true appreciation or respect for the military. Enough said.

    May 24, 2013 07:47 pm at 7:47 pm |
  23. Chris

    How quick the media is to always, always jump to the defense of Obama aren't they? Oh well, at least the public is now learning just what was elected as President of our country.

    May 24, 2013 07:49 pm at 7:49 pm |
  24. BigdaddyUSA

    More hype from the media, making breaking news nonsense.

    May 24, 2013 07:50 pm at 7:50 pm |
  25. ziggydoda

    I actually would rather would have a warm handshake than a cold salute.

    May 24, 2013 07:51 pm at 7:51 pm |
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