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. rexedie

    this whole issue is as pointless as who should be holding an umbrella. it is not necessary for the president to salute a guard who is manning his post and duties as designated (such as holding an umbrella) . it is a courteous gesture, but not necessary. regan was delusional .... and probably thought he was in a movie..... eisenhower had been a general...and was used to stepping over dead soldiers. who all deserved a salute. but ...generals don't waste time with that kind of stuff cause they are generals. they already know the sacrifice given, and that it was there responsibility.

    May 25, 2013 09:33 pm at 9:33 pm |
  2. racegirl1

    Can you give this President a break on anything? You people need to get a life, this hate is totally consuming you and if you don't be careful it will drive all of you mad.

    May 25, 2013 09:34 pm at 9:34 pm |
  3. Tripp

    I'm no fan of Obama, but he did fine. I understand he's busy and has a lot on his mind (even more than golf), so rushing into the helicopter and coming back out and only shaking the Marine's hand is fine. We shouldn't nit pick the president over every tiny thing just because we don't agree with him on large issues.

    May 25, 2013 09:36 pm at 9:36 pm |
  4. Anonymous

    Let's get a life, people! The young corporal was fine with it; that's all that matters at this point.

    May 25, 2013 09:39 pm at 9:39 pm |
  5. Richard Right

    No big deal. I once missed a salute and got chewed out, no reason to consider this being disrespectful to the Marine. What is direspectful is having Marines hold umbrellas outsideas if they were slaves when it is raining because someone didn't erect a temporary shelter for a speech.

    May 25, 2013 09:39 pm at 9:39 pm |
  6. Klint Eastwood

    Many of the comments here are strange and unintelligent. We have the best president ever and we have bug-eyed cicadas descending on

    May 25, 2013 09:40 pm at 9:40 pm |
  7. noreen richard

    We have more things falling apart in this country and we're worried over a handshake vs. a salute, c'mon folks!

    May 25, 2013 09:40 pm at 9:40 pm |
  8. Kimberly

    He should definitely salute to show respect & appreciation for the men & women who lay down their lives to protect their country.

    May 25, 2013 09:41 pm at 9:41 pm |
  9. Barrie

    You would think that after five years in office you would know how to look Presidential. He is the Commander and Chief-- so act the part- all I'm saying.

    May 25, 2013 09:47 pm at 9:47 pm |
  10. jsm

    Obama hasn't earned the right to salute or to be saluted. He denied aid to benghazi, etc
    Like Bill Clinton who ran from the draft as a coward neither have earned the right to be commander in chief. How can Americans vote for these bottom dwellers? How easily played the American voters.

    May 25, 2013 09:49 pm at 9:49 pm |
  11. brenda

    I look forward to the day when Americans stop majoring in minors and making minor things which are major.

    May 25, 2013 09:50 pm at 9:50 pm |
  12. Rapido

    He was actually giving the soldier a handful of Brazil Nuts.

    May 25, 2013 09:52 pm at 9:52 pm |
  13. paul

    it is common practice to return the salute of a member of the military of lower rank. Lets also remember, Mr. Obama is COMMANDER IN CHIEF of the military and should return a salute. To his credit, he acknowledged his error and returned to shake the Marines hand. To those of you who have not served, stay out of this argument and defer to those of us who HAVE served and know the proper protocol.

    May 25, 2013 10:03 pm at 10:03 pm |
  14. Jim g

    At our Memorial Day ceremony today, the speaker from the American Legion said, " If in uniform and with hat on, you salute otherwise you do not. During the ceremony we took off any hats and placed our hand on our hearts.
    Apparently 40+ other Presidents were wrong also,

    May 25, 2013 10:03 pm at 10:03 pm |
  15. tvn22

    No surprise. He's done nothing but spend money and divide our country. North Korea has nukes, millions still unemployed, not shocked one bit that he would disrespect our proud military.

    May 25, 2013 10:04 pm at 10:04 pm |
  16. Polar Bear

    No fan of Obama's, but salute or handshake is okay. Recognition more than the actual gesture.

    May 25, 2013 10:05 pm at 10:05 pm |
  17. bobhamiltonchicago

    As President and Commander in Chief, he can do the Mambo, if he wishes, or the Moonwalk. He can require the all soldiers do the Moonwalk as their new salute.

    May 25, 2013 10:06 pm at 10:06 pm |
  18. JeremyB

    Seemed to me the Marine was smiling when he shook the President's hand. If he's ok with it, so am I.

    May 25, 2013 10:09 pm at 10:09 pm |
  19. Old Crew Chief

    Not a huge Obama fan but I don't see what the big deal is. He DID salute the Crew Chief as he entered Marine One at the top of the stairs. Not a requirement b/c he's not in the military but certainly a nice gesture on the President's part. And, as some have pointed out, he went back outside to shake the Marine's hand, certainly not something he was expected to do but something that young Corporal will always remember. S/F

    May 25, 2013 10:17 pm at 10:17 pm |
  20. johnny johnson

    As a veteran and citizen, I am quite proud that the US has a civilian as a commander-in-chief. He is not in the military,therefore he owes no one a salute. It is a good reminder that we do not live under a military dictatorship. Reagan started all that saluting and few complained because he was popular and did it with a big smile.

    May 25, 2013 10:18 pm at 10:18 pm |
  21. Ken

    The President is the commander in chief of all the military branches. As their leader, he should return their salute! That is only proper and respectful!

    May 25, 2013 10:21 pm at 10:21 pm |
  22. Chris

    This is a real question? Of course he should salute. He is the Commander and Chief of all branches of our armed forces. Of course he should salute. I find it very insulting as an American to see such disrespect of a person in uniform. Of course with the President I'm not surprised.

    May 25, 2013 10:30 pm at 10:30 pm |
  23. Jim Jumnaski

    Here is one president that is a real human. There will never be a president so real and humble like this president Obama. Coming back to shake the officer hand is the ultimate illustration of compassion and kindness. He is the original class act.

    May 25, 2013 10:37 pm at 10:37 pm |
  24. Paulo

    A salute to a superior officer does NOT need to be returned. The serviceman is just supposed to hold the salute until the superior officer passes. There has been a long standing debate over whether a President should ever return a salute, because he is a civilian – although he is also the Commander in Chief.

    May 25, 2013 10:39 pm at 10:39 pm |
  25. douglas

    I'm not a Obama fan, for sure; however, as an former Major in the Marine Corps, Viet Nam fighter pilot with over 300 missions... I say he is the President, and if he wishes to shake that enlisted Marines hand... great. That Marine will remember it for life. Let's get to the important things in life!

    May 25, 2013 10:40 pm at 10:40 pm |
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