May 24th, 2013
04:14 PM ET
7 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.

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. Jeezlouise

    Hes a piece of garbage and should just get the f out of the country- Obama is disgusting

    May 26, 2013 12:15 am at 12:15 am |
  2. Jay Tome

    Tell you what, the heck with the salute, and demand that he tell the truth. I would gladly trade all salutes for one truthful word from his mouth. If the guy were Pinocchio, his nose would supply all the lumber needs of a large city.

    May 26, 2013 12:16 am at 12:16 am |
  3. Anonymous

    It is not as though he ignored him. He took the time to shake the Marine's hand. That is enough for me, in this situation. Quit making a big deal out of nothing. We all make mistakes, and this was clearly not intentional. If you can really argue that, you must have not watched the video.

    Semper fi

    May 26, 2013 12:17 am at 12:17 am |
  4. Bill Mahan

    President Obama went out of his way to shake that Marine's hand. I bet it made the Marine's day. Salutes are fine, but they are status quo (even from our Commander in Chief). I've been on the giving as well as the receiving end of many, so I'd like to think I know what I'm talking about. Did you see how the Marine's eyes lit up when the POTUS came back out and shook his hand? It doesn't take much to make your day, only to know that someone else cares about what you do. Hooah! – Captain Bill Mahan (currently employed by the best damn Army in the wide world and stationed at Fort Riley,Kansas. P.S. Go Kansas State University! Big XII Champions in Football, Basketball, and Baseball during the 2012-13 Season!!

    May 26, 2013 12:22 am at 12:22 am |
  5. Thelma Heywood

    From the Newsfish: I was born in Washington, D.C. to a Federal family. I worked at a high level and attended several diplomatic receptions at The White House. A civilian who works on a military base actually is considered a step above those who are uniformed. Tradition prior to the Reagan/Bush regime was for the President to shake hands. President Obama was quite appropriate in shaking hands with the marine. I am sick of the flag-waving act on the part of the Republicans as though it is their flag and no one else's. I am sick of the over-militarization of this Nation – a "W" legacy. An local Atlanta affiliate reporter this a.m. advised we should place our hand on a soldier's headstone and thank them. Oh please – I telephoned the station and told them they should do that for a teacher who died protecting a child in Oklahoma, Newtown, CT, at Columbine H.S., etc. At least the military have combat pay – teachers do not. Most educators aren't even paid a fair wage, much less have dental care for them and their families.

    May 26, 2013 12:22 am at 12:22 am |
  6. Name Jim Burnham

    If he truly is the commander and chief of the armed forces he would have saluted from a spirit of honor but
    maybe his pledge of allegiance is to another flag as we the people have noticed in the past.

    May 26, 2013 12:23 am at 12:23 am |
  7. Name Jim Burnham

    I noticed you did not post my last comment, I will assume your part of the government controlled media.

    May 26, 2013 12:26 am at 12:26 am |
  8. Michael Beery

    Did he breach any formally established protocol? No.
    Do we have more important issues to focus on? Yes.
    Is a predominately dysfunctional two party system swayed by Special Interest groups, irrelivant who is in Oval Office, the actual problem with our Government? Yes.
    Do people really believe that any POTUS has the ability to completely control the direction our Country and can appropriately micro or macro manage our emense system and problems and in all fairness take full responsiblity for all things and be perfect at all times? Sadly, it appears so.
    We need to worry about why we have so much political process stagnation and division of our system. We need to worry about the Federal Reserve and other private banking systems and the foriegn and domestic investment groups that have a strangle hold on us. We need to worry about protecting the Homeland more locally than spread so thin abroad. We need to worry about our failing infrastructure and not spend our $ rebuilding other countries. We are no good to the rest of the World if we don't take care of ourselves first. We need to focus on education and promoting community and National service programs.
    In other words, our energy needs to be spent on so much more than handshakes versus salutes and other lame ass divisive mud slinging that doesn't move our Country forward.

    May 26, 2013 12:34 am at 12:34 am |
  9. dick digginner

    I dare you to not salute an officer in your chain of command, dressed in civvies or not.

    May 26, 2013 12:37 am at 12:37 am |
  10. Mr rainbow

    I would have went with a high five. Or a slap on the bottom.

    May 26, 2013 12:39 am at 12:39 am |
  11. A guy north of the border

    Why so little respect for your president? He is the best you've had in decades –perhaps the best since FDR and after that you have to go back to Lincoln. Both FDR and Lincoln did terrible things in defence of the nation –Obama's drones may fall into that category. They are immoral but the enemy the US faces will stop at nothing–Presidents have to make terrible choices. So left and right sit up and take notice–you're living in the age of one of the greatest you have ever had.

    May 26, 2013 12:39 am at 12:39 am |
  12. nate

    why the hell is this in the news????

    May 26, 2013 12:43 am at 12:43 am |
  13. Eric Holduh

    The president should always salute the troops but the Obamas don't respect the flag so why should we expect them to salute?

    May 26, 2013 12:44 am at 12:44 am |
  14. Robin Jones

    This article is a diversion from more serious matters. Failed leadership of federal agencies such as the Justice Department and the IRS should not be shrouded in the fog of such drivel.

    May 26, 2013 12:45 am at 12:45 am |
  15. Jim

    The President may be commander in chief of the army and the navy, but he is still a civilian, and civilians don't return salutes.

    May 26, 2013 12:52 am at 12:52 am |
  16. Da'rrell

    This sparks debate? This isn't even news. News was the Cubana missile crisis, the Berlin Wall falling, 911. This is just fodder for a country he'll bent on being outraged by everything. God make it stop!

    May 26, 2013 01:02 am at 1:02 am |
  17. MyOpinion

    I was in the U.S. Army during the Vietnam war (66-68). I was taught that saluting was only done by military personnel when in uniform. We were also taught to salute when the national anthem and "Hail to the Chief" were played as well as to salute the U.S. flag, while in uniform, if it past in review or when "the colors" were presented. It was also common for uniformed police officers to salute the flag and to salute while the national anthem was being sung/played.

    The U. S. flag was given a lot more reverence and respect back then than it is now. It was considered a crime to wear any part of the flag as clothing and using it as a towel to wipe the sweat from one's body would have been unthinkable.

    May 26, 2013 01:10 am at 1:10 am |
  18. Rashid Hamsayeh

    Handshake brings much more warmth between two people rather than a salute which is cold and extremely formal. I may not like his job performance, but he did not do anything wrong.

    May 26, 2013 01:13 am at 1:13 am |
  19. vdanker

    Since he is still a civilian, it isn't expected that he should salute. But then, who cares? There are far more important considerations than this.

    May 26, 2013 01:16 am at 1:16 am |
  20. Dave

    Who cares? There are more important things to discuss like education, poverty, nuclear weapons, cancer.

    May 26, 2013 01:25 am at 1:25 am |
  21. Tim

    It doesn't matter what a president does, whatever he or she does, approximately half the country will be upset about it.

    But in this case, acknowledging the guard is a tradition, not protocol, so it's the POTUS' call. After all, Mr. Obama was not in uniform, nor has he served in the armed forces, so a salute is not mandatory.

    May 26, 2013 01:41 am at 1:41 am |
  22. Kathrynn Sparks

    President Obama was not a military man, so I would think it would be an awkward gesture for him and perhaps somewhat of an insult to one who is military.

    May 26, 2013 01:41 am at 1:41 am |
  23. Tim

    There's no requirement to salute when not in uniform or when indoors w/o a cover. A handshake was actually more personal and thoughtful.

    May 26, 2013 01:54 am at 1:54 am |
  24. nomad2003

    miltary... should be a salute followed by handshake if desired...

    May 26, 2013 01:54 am at 1:54 am |
  25. Keith Hays

    I must admit that my military training was limited to two years of ROTC classes at the University of Illinois in 1956 through 1958 but from that limited education in military affairs I recall that it was considered improper for an office to salute if not in uniform or. if out of doors, when not wearing a head cover. Salutes were to only be exchanged between military personnel and the exchange was to be initiated by the subordinate in recognition of a commissioned officer.

    May 26, 2013 02:12 am at 2:12 am |
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