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. MDS

    The noise is the Auxiliary Power Unit, not the "aerial" power unit. It amazes me how reporters get things like that wrong and the editors don't catch it!

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

    this news? Really???

    May 26, 2013 05:30 am at 5:30 am |
  3. Mark A. Limbeck

    I am trulu suprised at the lack of negative comments on this post; there are only a few. I guess they are all hanging out over at Fox!! He didn't do what any average President would have done, by rendering a salute... an almost instinctive reaction. He did something that the Marine will likely remember for the rest of his life. He came BACK OUT OF THE HELICOPTER, SAID A FEW WORDS TO HIM AND SHOOK HIS HAND. A salute is a requirement, but the handshake is going the extra mile. – 24 year Army veteran & still going strong

    May 26, 2013 05:39 am at 5:39 am |
  4. Maeve

    The funniest comments here express anger about the handshake instead of a salute AND upset at the photo of a Marine holding an umbrella over President Obama's head. Were these folks also upset all the times Marines held umbrellas for past presidents, republican and democrat alike? And do all those presidents before Reagan who did not salute the uniformed man guarding the way for him really, REALLY tick you off? Honestly, Obama couldn't even drink a glass of water correctly according to those who've simply made the choice to hate the guy!

    May 26, 2013 05:43 am at 5:43 am |
  5. sean

    He should and more....

    May 26, 2013 05:59 am at 5:59 am |
  6. Mani

    Its amazing to read that everyone hate America, Strange enough you accused your own present of hate! and luck of respect. I guess America is going down deep and faster. Grow up and before you doom yourself with hate and arrogance. You become childish and annoying.

    May 26, 2013 06:11 am at 6:11 am |
  7. jed

    Eskimos rub noses. Try that!

    May 26, 2013 06:11 am at 6:11 am |
  8. SFC A

    Are you kidding me. I'm impressed that he thought about it and recovered. I know for a fact I've seen George W. get on the bird and not render a salute. So fan or not I think it shows respect. A salute from a superior is great but a handshake is that and more. I'm sure the Marine was honored. Ask him.

    May 26, 2013 06:25 am at 6:25 am |
  9. bobdevo

    The president is not required to salute anyone. Dwight D. Eisenhower never returned salutes as president, because he knew better.

    May 26, 2013 06:41 am at 6:41 am |
  10. DCAL

    This debate will be simple...all of the people who like and support Obama will say he does not need to do this because blablabla. All of the people who dislike Obama will scream he has disrespected the military members by not renderning a salute.
    My 2 Cents...Mr. Obama has been critisized repeatedly for things like this throughout his presidency...remember when he would not put his hand over his heart during the national anthem? I don't know if it is because he is stubborn or because he is that arrogant, but he needs to stop with the stupid stuff, although not "required" he is the elected leader of the United States and should continue to make the very small effort and do these things.
    With that said, in this specific case, he either realized he forgot to salute or someone told him that he missed the salute so he got back off (which is also not proper edict) to shake this Marines hand. I give a rare hats off to Mr. Obama for doing so.

    May 26, 2013 06:41 am at 6:41 am |
  11. Mike Boston

    This article shows how petty "some" Americans and the media have become. By "petty", I mean having undue concern for a trivial matter in a spiteful way. It seems many Americans focus on negativity and bringing others faults to light rather than looking at the good that many Americans, including our president, do every day. As for the author, please know what you write about or don't write it. It's not an "aerial power unit" you hear. It's called an "auxiliary power unit" or APU. As for respect, even if the president did break what others see as a tradition of saluting, he did show respect by shaking his hand and perhaps more so, as the handshake is much more personable than a rigid salute.

    May 26, 2013 06:52 am at 6:52 am |
  12. Carole

    I think the handshake shows who the President is, a person for the people. A salute is nice, but I respect his friendly gesture.

    May 26, 2013 06:53 am at 6:53 am |
  13. jeff

    If you don't have a clue about how a helicopter operates, maybe you shouldn't put that part in your article. It's an auxiliary power unit, aerial doesn't even make sense.
    The Marine is doing his job by saluting no matter how he feels., the true professional.

    May 26, 2013 06:55 am at 6:55 am |
  14. Namethetrurh

    A salute is to show you are unarmed. He did not salute because he had a Koran under his arm. come on people – get realizzle

    May 26, 2013 06:56 am at 6:56 am |
  15. LKR

    Eisenhower didn't return salutes when he was President. This "tradition" was started by Reagan, whose military aide told him it was inappropriate and counter to protocol. The first time Obama did it (as President-elect), there were articles questioning whether he should be doing it.

    May 26, 2013 06:57 am at 6:57 am |
  16. Russell

    The Marine was actually saluting the President. Out of respect/acknowledgement President Obama should have returned the salute...but a correction and handshake is certainly a good way to return the acknowledgement/respect.

    May 26, 2013 07:15 am at 7:15 am |
  17. Steve

    aerial power unit? Sorry, auxillary power unit, used to provide power to the aircraft when the main engines are not running.

    "running ahead of engaging the rotors", nope the rotors are propelled by the main engines, "running ahead of of starting the eninges" perhaps.

    May 26, 2013 07:18 am at 7:18 am |
  18. Mark

    President's gaff? Things happen, he corrected this. Poppy Harlow in reporting this gaff creates one herself by calling the president Mr. Obama. You could hear in her voice that she caught it, but she didn't have the class to correct herself.

    May 26, 2013 07:30 am at 7:30 am |
  19. Eric Asae

    What controversy? This should be an option which the president decides to exercise or not. Those complaining are just trying to make a hill out of a molehill.

    May 26, 2013 07:30 am at 7:30 am |
  20. George

    Not a obama fan, but this showed class. His politics stink. He is not a bad person

    May 26, 2013 07:34 am at 7:34 am |
  21. Funky Guy

    How about a fist bump instead

    May 26, 2013 07:51 am at 7:51 am |
  22. DPB

    @ AgaintK
    "Mr.Obama probably doesn't ride the Marine helicopter often enough" Give me a break...he goes around the world like a rock star on the US Taxpayers do you think he gets to the airport for these trips???

    If you want to support him...then support him with facts...if you want to idolize him...then expect to be the rest of us are with him...Bo Bo is long on talk and short on delivery...

    May 26, 2013 07:55 am at 7:55 am |
  23. TTom

    His handshake and directly engaging the soldier is a more intimate way for thanking this individual for his help. Anyone who's adamant about having to solute needs to stop being a machine, and becoming more human. Thank you have a nice day.

    May 26, 2013 08:03 am at 8:03 am |
  24. Doug Olenick

    The president is not saluting the Marine, he is returning the Marine's salute. The president is commander in chief of the US armed forces and therefore is to be saluted. I believe his position certainly allows him to return the salute, however, since the president does not wear a uniform he is not required to return the salute. It is a nice gesture however. I believe Bill Clinton received saluting instructions so he would not look foolish. There is a proper way to salute, it is almost always done improperly on TV or in the movies. While a civilian might not notice anyone having served can tell the difference.

    May 26, 2013 08:08 am at 8:08 am |
  25. Tired of the Lies

    Why not a high five?

    May 26, 2013 08:14 am at 8:14 am |
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