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. Hugh Jass

    Slow news day?

    May 26, 2013 02:21 am at 2:21 am |
  2. lesleysthoughts

    Does a salute carry more respect than a handshake? I ask, because I think of a salute as a handshake without the effort of approaching and "putting oneself in the other's hands" so to speak. Either is a respectful acknowledgment of the other person's status. A handshake seems more personal to me, where salutes can travel around and acknowledge many soldiers at once, a handshake is a personal gesture. I do think that it is in poor form to question the president's choice over something that is not "a break in protocol," especially publicly. Perhaps it is your own slip that is showing.

    May 26, 2013 02:41 am at 2:41 am |
  3. Anonymous

    Go look up military regs on Salutes, Honors, And Visits Of Courtesy . And you will get your answer here is the army reg Army Regulation 600-25. And it is pretty much the same for all of the srevices. I know frist hand enlisted have to salute th President and cant not render my salute until a salute is retured. I am a vet. But their a reg.

    May 26, 2013 02:47 am at 2:47 am |
  4. tinkertoy

    I like the handshake better, it seems more personal.

    May 26, 2013 02:49 am at 2:49 am |
  5. Ambrose Smith

    I am sure the Marine was okay with it. After all, the President returned shook his hand and had a few words. Is it a slow news day today?

    May 26, 2013 02:51 am at 2:51 am |
  6. Joe

    Oh, if the actor-president Reagan initiated this custom, than it's must – bahahaha!!

    A formal military salute is only valid if the person wears a military outfit; the military salute is definitely not a civilian gesture!

    May 26, 2013 02:51 am at 2:51 am |
  7. Anonymous

    The president of the United states is considered the highest ranking military member therefore he should salute military members.

    May 26, 2013 02:59 am at 2:59 am |
  8. Scott

    Pres. Obama is the commander in chief of the military and must return salutes in situations like this.

    May 26, 2013 02:59 am at 2:59 am |
  9. Fro


    May 26, 2013 03:07 am at 3:07 am |
  10. Russ Marcus

    I think Republicans should show more respect to the President of the United States and stop emulating the Taliban in religiously finding fault with anything he does.

    May 26, 2013 03:07 am at 3:07 am |
  11. Denise Curtus

    We have more things to worry about than to look for every mistake a person makes . We are human and if I had the responsibilities Mr. Obama has, I too might slip and Unintentionally show a salute. But, it takes a bigger person to go back, immediately, and correct the mistake. Also, I'm sure the pilots notice the error and as his Wing Man, let him know. Hats off to them for doing so!

    May 26, 2013 03:21 am at 3:21 am |
  12. Brandon

    It is SAD that they can't come up with any substantive ways to complain about the president other then the same old stupid Hes not an american or he hates america (YA thats why he SUCCESSFULLY ran for president twice) Now they have to come up with these stupid ignorant meaningless mundane scandals really. What about when under Bush the IRS Investigated liberal groups, if they Justice Department wants to investigate someone for TREASON then they should be able to question people. I find it funny that the idiots that scream the loudest are the people that when Bush was in power said that it was Terroist support if you dared question the president. GET OVER IT HE WON HE IS THE PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES. IF YOU DONT LIKE IT LEAVE!!!!! Id be happy to buy you a freaking one way ticket.

    May 26, 2013 03:29 am at 3:29 am |
  13. John T

    Civilians should not be saluting anyone, and that applies to all civilians. People in uniform salute each other, and the order depends on the rank, the subordinate going first. That is military protocol.

    May 26, 2013 03:35 am at 3:35 am |
  14. Stephen Johnson

    The Salute is a militarized hand gesture that proclaims diplomacy in that "I come unarmed". It is inappropriate for anyone besides an enlisted or military officer to salute anyone. Cpt. Stephen Johnson 1st of the 40th Field Artillery. Intentionally or not, the president did the right thing.

    May 26, 2013 03:41 am at 3:41 am |
  15. Fran

    While a salute is customary, it is usually done as a acknowledgement with no communication other than the salute. Obama took the time to come back out of the chopper, but to say something special and personal to the young man and shake his hand. Perhaps more meaningful and respectful than just an ordinate salute.

    May 26, 2013 03:51 am at 3:51 am |
  16. Miguel Morris

    Most of you are missing the point. The President(CIC) is returning the salute offered by the Marine. He is not initiating the salute, although he could. So it is proper. This tradition goes back to the Knights of Yore, who showed their right hand to display a neutral approach and not carrying a sword/weapon. In other organizations, civilians like the BSOA, salute. So it proper to return a salute as a measure of respect. Can we zero in of the important things our President does or does not do?

    May 26, 2013 04:06 am at 4:06 am |
  17. L. T. Fang

    The rest of world is LOL'ing over American voters bickering about the president's solute/handshake at a single marine.

    May 26, 2013 04:12 am at 4:12 am |
  18. Andrew

    President Obama showed genuine respect when returning to the Marine with a handshake.

    May 26, 2013 04:14 am at 4:14 am |
  19. guy

    Riot in th these comments

    May 26, 2013 04:33 am at 4:33 am |
  20. canadafirstaid

    In this situation, no one gave or received the 'one finger' salute. Better build better bridges then brick walls. Speaking of bridges – get them fixed before more folks fall into the drink!!

    May 26, 2013 04:36 am at 4:36 am |
  21. Tia C

    Only if he was on the military

    May 26, 2013 04:37 am at 4:37 am |
  22. mandy

    The simple fact that senile, Alzheimer afflicted Ronald Reagan started this tradition is enough reason to abandon it. Reagan was a bad actor literally and figuratively. Anything he did was pandering. He never realized that he would never win an academy award. You people who idolize him should wake up and acknowledge that all the ills of the current era can be traced back to Reagan.

    May 26, 2013 05:00 am at 5:00 am |
  23. Ben Beauka

    I think for this particular president that a handshake is much more appropriate. I don't this guy should be allowed to salute a military that he has shown so little respect and support for.

    May 26, 2013 05:03 am at 5:03 am |
  24. anthony decker

    I think if they want to impeach a president over having his mind on other (bigger) things and then trying to make a small mistake right. I think regardless of party we are expecting too much from any president after all our leaders are human I was impressed how he said he strives to be worthy of the position every day. I am a independent-libertarian leaning and i respect a honest mistake why can't others?

    May 26, 2013 05:11 am at 5:11 am |
  25. Anonymous

    Salute should be replaced with a high five ASAP

    May 26, 2013 05:25 am at 5:25 am |
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