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. Minoa

    Yes, it's best if the President exchanges salutes each time. Not only is it a complimentary acknowledgment to the service of our military, but it is a reminder to our military (and the world) that our military answers to the President.

    May 24, 2013 08:06 pm at 8:06 pm |
  2. Tom Emly

    This is not a really important national issue.

    May 24, 2013 08:07 pm at 8:07 pm |
  3. Respect

    The salute is a sign of respect between two military professionals. By returning to shake the Marine's hand, the president clearly showed his respect. Salutes between military members are given all the time with ill feeling behind the gesture; this gesture by the president was far more meaningful than an empty, gotta do it act.

    May 24, 2013 08:07 pm at 8:07 pm |
  4. totalperspectives

    What an amazing president? Destined to be the best in history of this country. His candor and honesty are so transparent and now his gestures speak to who he really is? How can you not love this president.

    May 24, 2013 08:08 pm at 8:08 pm |
  5. Jerry

    Who cares. it is probably some Republicans making a big deal over nothing.

    May 24, 2013 08:08 pm at 8:08 pm |
  6. deee510

    Really a story about this?God bless our president

    May 24, 2013 08:08 pm at 8:08 pm |

    And now we have salute-gate.

    May 24, 2013 08:10 pm at 8:10 pm |
  8. Reckless

    Let me guess this is a bigger controversy than Benghazi..... or this is impeachable....... of this is proof he hates America

    May 24, 2013 08:10 pm at 8:10 pm |
  9. Mike

    I a war zone you don't salute as it shows the emery who is higher rank. Since he is a Democrat in a Republican territory, I would say he is in a war zone. LOL But really we as a Nation, don't have a military officer as President, so I don't think not saluting the Marine is disrespectful. I bet you that Marine will remember that hand shake a lot longer than a salute from the President.

    May 24, 2013 08:10 pm at 8:10 pm |
  10. Big_D

    A personal handshake and thanks for their service is about class. Obama certainly has a LOT of that.

    May 24, 2013 08:10 pm at 8:10 pm |
  11. Ann

    Obama LOVES to refer to himself as "commander in chief"....maybe he should act like it. He is disrespectful to our Military personnel. His phony words at the Naval Academy mean nothing....actions speak louder!

    May 24, 2013 08:13 pm at 8:13 pm |
  12. tedz

    its reagan's fault for being so awesome, that everyother president is judged with him. its not fair to any other president, let a lone obama.

    May 24, 2013 08:15 pm at 8:15 pm |
  13. David

    Saluting a superior is a military protocol. Military personnel not in uniform and civilians, regardless of past military experience, should NOT pretend to be soldiers and salute uniformed personnel. Ronald Reagan was a one-a-be soldier and exhibited his ignorance by saluting and enlisted man.

    May 24, 2013 08:15 pm at 8:15 pm |
  14. Eric

    I don't know, I guess who cares? I say a handshake. I salute people when I'm joking around and saying hi from a distance.

    May 24, 2013 08:15 pm at 8:15 pm |
  15. Nick Villa

    But of course he MUST salute!! It is the most basic of all military traditions and I thought he was the Commander in Chief!!

    May 24, 2013 08:15 pm at 8:15 pm |
  16. sbul

    In the uniform code of conduct for saluting one must have their heads covered to salute. If he is not wearing a hat then a salute is inappropriate. Reagan frequently saluted without a hat which is actually a break in the code but as commander in chief he can do that but mostly it is inappropriate to salute when the head is not covered (no hat).

    May 24, 2013 08:15 pm at 8:15 pm |
  17. Sane Person

    incoming repub "outrage" in 3...2...1

    May 24, 2013 08:16 pm at 8:16 pm |
  18. talkingraven1

    marvelous. now watch the gop make another stupid big deal about this. i am sure sarah palin is using her great intellect to come up with more b.s. venom

    May 24, 2013 08:16 pm at 8:16 pm |
  19. nbgb

    Ahhh. The next scandal. Time for McCarthy, I mean Issa to convene a new inquiry. Call the committee together.

    May 24, 2013 08:17 pm at 8:17 pm |
  20. M Seboria

    Definitely yes he is the commander in chief!!!

    May 24, 2013 08:18 pm at 8:18 pm |
  21. John

    I think it's not a big deal if he forgot to salute the soldier.

    May 24, 2013 08:19 pm at 8:19 pm |
  22. Cory L

    " (That noise you hear in the video is the aerial power unit on the helicopter running ahead of engaging the rotors."

    It's actually auxiliary power unit, not aerial.

    May 24, 2013 08:19 pm at 8:19 pm |
  23. Harald

    Shaking hands is as much a sign of respect as a military salute.

    May 24, 2013 08:19 pm at 8:19 pm |
  24. Joe

    I am not a fan of Obama, but in this case I salute him!

    May 24, 2013 08:20 pm at 8:20 pm |
  25. Doc Crate

    The reporter wrongly stated the Marine's rank as "officer," the Devil Dogs who stand guard for Marine One are enlisted- Semper Fi.

    May 24, 2013 08:22 pm at 8:22 pm |
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