May 24th, 2013
04:14 PM ET
10 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. truth in journalism

    Its must be a really sloooooow news day.

    May 25, 2013 05:25 pm at 5:25 pm |
  2. alberto eleta

    it should be in the President`s own criteria whom to salute via high palm and index finger to the eyebrow, or via a handshake. it is not only his prerrogative, but also a way to boost the exchange of recognition and fraternity that must remain a permanent manner to receive and render mutual respect between the Commander-in-Chief, and all ranks in the military.

    May 25, 2013 05:26 pm at 5:26 pm |
  3. Hawk in Texas

    There was no slight on the presidents part. and it is not mandantory he salute anyone. this is just something else for the republicans to cherry pi about Obama. if they were doing the job they were elected to do they wouldn't have time to watch his every move.

    May 25, 2013 05:28 pm at 5:28 pm |
  4. Ordinary guy

    I like handshake better than salute.

    May 25, 2013 05:31 pm at 5:31 pm |
  5. shades

    like everything Obama does, its all about him, this great journey he was given, he cares little about sacrifice, he's a joke

    May 25, 2013 05:33 pm at 5:33 pm |
  6. James E. Whedbee

    President Obama did the correct thing to remedy his oversight...not a big deal. How many know that we are also to salute anyone who receives the Medal of Honor? Regardless of rank, the recipient of a Medal of Honor is first saluted. If they don't wear it, however, how would anybody know? I think the same applies here: the President didn't see the Marine. When he realized his error, he immediately corrected it. Sometimes there is greater honor in acknowledging a mistake and making it right...that's more likely to be remembered by this Marine for the rest of his career: the personal integrity to right a wrong. Civilians, military, and veterans alike...we can give our uniformed forces a great gift this Memorial Day Weekend and holiday by working for peace and causes which make the strain of service lighter.

    May 25, 2013 05:35 pm at 5:35 pm |
  7. AgaintK.

    President Obama didn't do anything wrong. It is customary for previous presidents to salute Marine corps, but it is not required for presidents to practice this every time. Mr.Obama probably doesn't ride the Marine helicopter often enough, so he was oblivious to saluting the Marine standing outside the chopper. Let's give a break to President Obama and stop criticizing every step he makes. Besides, a handshake from the President is much more worth it than a salute and gesture.

    May 25, 2013 05:42 pm at 5:42 pm |
  8. Rapido

    How about throwing down some cardboard and doing a break dance?

    May 25, 2013 05:44 pm at 5:44 pm |
  9. Kris

    Didn't see him? How could he not see him? There is always at least one of them standing there, at attention, each and every time he boards that aircraft. It was good of him, though, to acknowledge the Marine after he realized what he had forgotten to do.

    May 25, 2013 05:52 pm at 5:52 pm |
  10. Dave Tubuks

    Yes, the President is Commander-in-Chief, BUT he is a civilian. Formal salutes are proper only for members of the military community...a sign of mutual respect and courtesy. A civilian does not salute, but rather places his right hand, palm down, over his heart. That would be proper for a President or any other non-military member of our National Command Authority.

    May 25, 2013 05:57 pm at 5:57 pm |
  11. LC

    Obama may be commander-in-chief (CIC) of our armed forced BUT he never served and may wonder why should he, as a civilian, offer a salute. The answer is RESPECT. As CIC he should learn a proper salute instead of that limp wave he has that he tries to pass off as a salute. This is just another example of either how little genuine respect and/or knowledge he has for our military. It may not be *required* but the salute has become a more recent tradition for this office and our Armed Services deserve the utmost respect.

    May 25, 2013 05:58 pm at 5:58 pm |
  12. Erikaro

    Actually a salute has always meant " I salute you" "I respect you", I is an gesture of honoring a person one salutes. And even without a uniform the President is a Commander in Chief. A handshake is not enough.

    May 25, 2013 05:59 pm at 5:59 pm |
  13. Lee

    Offering a handshake is, in my opinion, much more a sign of appreciation than a salute. I am in the military and would much rather have a handshake from POTUS than a salute.

    May 25, 2013 05:59 pm at 5:59 pm |
  14. Kenneth

    What? Obama hates America and everything it stands for? What a shock!

    May 25, 2013 06:06 pm at 6:06 pm |
  15. Leland Traiman

    It is sad that the best some people can do is spending their time trying to make a mountain out of a mole hill.

    May 25, 2013 06:08 pm at 6:08 pm |
  16. oregonbird

    I think the president should providing housing and food to the 90,000 homeless vets. I think he should deal with the 30 MONTH wait the VA uses to avoid new claims from vets. I think he shouldn't have taken on the role of a war leader when there is no country threatening the United States.

    May 25, 2013 06:10 pm at 6:10 pm |
  17. Paul Dickinson

    Is he the Commander in Chief or not? He is being saluted and in the military you return salutes. A handshake?? Please....that's almost as bad as asking the guy to hold an umbrella for him!

    May 25, 2013 06:12 pm at 6:12 pm |

    He Forgets a lot.

    Maybe he can write... I'm President.. on his hand or something.

    May 25, 2013 06:12 pm at 6:12 pm |
  19. Rastarman

    That's a great President but even more so a great human being. He made a mistake – based on tradition not rules, realized it, immediately owned up and corrected it. He could have done what I might have done and said, yeah, well it is just once in a while and again Am the president....
    He did not do that..He said ,you know what, these brave men and women serve us with their lives. I am not too big to go back and say , "Sir, please forgive me for not saluting. I have a great country to run in difficult times so am always thinking. There are always millions of things going through my mind all at once. Have a great day sir and continue to serve your country well. By the way, greet the family. Tell them its from your President"

    May 25, 2013 06:15 pm at 6:15 pm |
  20. Mike

    Seriously, who really cares? Has Obama done ANYTHING lately to help create jobs? Has he done anything BESIDES make a great, passionate speech and walk away?

    May 25, 2013 06:25 pm at 6:25 pm |
  21. Anonymous


    May 25, 2013 06:25 pm at 6:25 pm |
  22. Duke#4

    Obama could be observed burning or urinating on the American flag while CNN and others develop reasons why this
    behavior is acceptable!.

    May 25, 2013 06:28 pm at 6:28 pm |
  23. Bill Richardson

    When an enlisted man salutes a superior officer that salute must be returned. there are very few exceptions to that rule. What President Obama did was, at first, wrong. President Obama then made up for that error in a major way. To shake the hand of the enlisted man shows respect. For Mr Obama to have gotten off of the helicopter to do so shows honor and dignity. I am not an Obama fan at all. I think that he is the worst president we have ever had. However, what he did here deserves a well done.

    May 25, 2013 06:30 pm at 6:30 pm |
  24. Namejan

    Do negative people ever stop complaining? Were other presidents perfect?

    May 25, 2013 06:43 pm at 6:43 pm |
  25. Charles

    It is not the first times P.O.S. Obama "FORGOT" to salute. Wake up people, Obama does not care for our military, he doesn't make mistakes with the Muslim Brotherhood. He has insulted the American military and other times he "FORGOT" while holding his man hood. Both of the Obama's were raised to hate America. I am tired of P.O.S. Obama insulting our military.

    May 25, 2013 06:45 pm at 6:45 pm |
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