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. Bob

    So instead of supporting our president, dem or pub, Americans are turning on him at every chance; shaming our country. If you hate him so much, leave. Grow up and act like adults, start setting an example for others and stop being such judgemental hypocrites. Of course this means nothing, because Hillary will win in 2016, and these same people will launch attacks on her as well. They would rather see a white, 90 year old, in office still clinging to retro-conservative fundie rhetoric.

    May 26, 2013 11:38 am at 11:38 am |
  2. Kemper

    Better that he doesn't salute. Somehow when he does it lessens the respect.

    May 26, 2013 11:39 am at 11:39 am |
  3. TNPatriot

    @Dr Matrix
    "As a veteran I have always disliked the idea of a President who hasn't served saluting. It is a military way of showing the pecking order. I can only think of 3 Presidents in the last 60 years who served in the military and the last one left office 21 years ago."
    Actually, in the last 60 years only President Eisenhower served in the Regular Military. Kennedy, Johnson, Nixon, Ford and George H W Bush all served in combat, but as members of the Naval Reserve.

    May 26, 2013 11:45 am at 11:45 am |
  4. Janette C. Mitchell Holness

    This president is scrutinized and criticized for every move he makes. This was not a breach of protocol. Let him be. He is doing a fantastic job.

    May 26, 2013 11:48 am at 11:48 am |
  5. sandy

    This isn't even a real story, everybody makes mistakes,nobody is perfect,not even the president is perfect.This is like a teacher yelling at a smart kid for getting a problem wrong.

    May 26, 2013 11:49 am at 11:49 am |
  6. What?

    Each and every President of the United States of America is Commander in Chief of the military. We lead by example and respect. Of course he should salute. Is it really even in question? I think his narsicissism is best explained when the press refers to him as Mr Obama in lieu of President Obama. Now I finally see why. He lost my respect when he did that- especially with memorial day pressing near. Actions speak louder than words. What is in a mans heart shows by his actions. He did not deem that young marine important enough to salute so he forgot.

    May 26, 2013 11:51 am at 11:51 am |
  7. omgamike

    OMG. Such a stupid thing to make an issue of. He is CIC of all of the armed forces. He can salute, or shake hands, or any combination, or none at all. He's the boss. He's a civilian. I believe, IMO, that a handshake is actually more appropriate.

    May 26, 2013 11:53 am at 11:53 am |
  8. U Lawrence

    Seriously...I'ts only a matter of time before we get a discussion as to the toothpaste the President uses.
    I'm betting it will come shortly.
    When would some people get a life!

    May 26, 2013 11:58 am at 11:58 am |
  9. realitywatch

    (Yawn).......can we talk about something else please?

    May 26, 2013 12:02 pm at 12:02 pm |
  10. gonnagetemville

    Yeah Yeah Yeah, Whatever. It's not the first time he has forgotten something. Like forgetting who the American people are.

    May 26, 2013 12:04 pm at 12:04 pm |
  11. db

    Giddy Republicans: "This is an impeachable offense, right? Right!?!"

    May 26, 2013 12:07 pm at 12:07 pm |
  12. Andrew

    Who cares? Aren't there more pressing issues such as the deficit and our debt to China we should be worrying about instead?

    May 26, 2013 12:08 pm at 12:08 pm |
  13. Jar Head

    As a former active duty Marine, and having friends who had the honor of this postion in the US Marine Corps, I am quyite offended. Not just because he's a horrible president who doesn't even hold his hand over his heart during the National Anthem, but because of what Marines have done and sacraficed in the past and also what these Marines have had to go through to get to this position. Yes, he made up for hois mistake, but he should have saluted the Marine, then show an amoumnt of dignity to shake his hand to show respect for that and all othet service members, not just Marines.

    May 26, 2013 12:09 pm at 12:09 pm |
  14. Hal

    CNN: keep on doing your important news! Hard news scandals!? Only if Obama is not involved in any way! If the President doesn't do it, then it shouldn't be done!

    May 26, 2013 12:09 pm at 12:09 pm |
  15. Basil

    I love you OBAMA.

    May 26, 2013 12:11 pm at 12:11 pm |
  16. Hillcrester

    Another non-issue elevated to pseudo-importance by the professional Obma haters.

    A far more important American tradition is that we respect the result of elections and wish our Presidents well–until we finally got a mixed-race one, when it apparently became no longer operative.

    May 26, 2013 12:11 pm at 12:11 pm |
  17. Rocco

    Commander and Chief? Yes I would say that covers it! OF COURSE HE SHOULD SALUTE!!!

    May 26, 2013 12:12 pm at 12:12 pm |
  18. msradell

    This would be excusable if he was newly elected. He's been in office 4 1/2 years, by now you should know what is correct! I'm not criticizing because its president Obama, I'm criticizing because the president doesn't do what he's supposed to. There is simply no excuse for not respecting members of the military, especially those who are directly responsible for his safety and security.

    May 26, 2013 12:13 pm at 12:13 pm |
  19. Too Scruffy

    His mind was probably elsewhere, "which scandal do I have to address today?"

    May 26, 2013 12:15 pm at 12:15 pm |
  20. Sam

    You reporters have nothing else to report?

    May 26, 2013 12:24 pm at 12:24 pm |
  21. Paula Estivan

    A Tradition since Reagan??? Sorry I don't see what the issue is that is not a tradition. A tradition is something that is passed on from generations to generations, this country is over 200 years old so your telling me it was only done for 2 decades out of 200+ years. GET OVER IT!!!!

    May 26, 2013 12:29 pm at 12:29 pm |
  22. Max

    A) It is the Auxiliary Power Unit (APU) not Aerial Power Unit.

    B) The Marine standing by the Helicopter stairs is clearly enlisted, not an officer, as evidenced by the chevrons on his arm.

    May 26, 2013 12:29 pm at 12:29 pm |
  23. Mark in San Diego

    I'm a republican and I don't see the big deal! Not only is he grasping hands with the young Marine, who does look perplexed in this photo, but he is leaning in and saying something. No big deal!

    May 26, 2013 12:29 pm at 12:29 pm |
  24. Mark in San Diego

    I just looked at Fox and they don't even mention this, so why even stoke the hate? Oh, wait! I remember... something like this will create conflict out of nothing. Good by liberal media. Bet this comment gets moderated out.

    May 26, 2013 12:33 pm at 12:33 pm |
  25. Oy


    if Bush had done this liberals would be cryin for weeks about how he is disrespectful and lacks common sense."

    He was disrespectful and lacking in common sense.
    Apples and oranges, friend.

    May 26, 2013 12:34 pm at 12:34 pm |
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