Presidential Salute

by John Condon
(Huntington Station,NY USA)

John writes:

I saw President Obama render a military salute when honoring KIAs at Dover AFB. He is a civilian in civilian clothes. He is not a veteran.

Is he entitled to render the salute or is his proper sign of respect a hand over his heart?

Editor: Excellent question, John.

We suspect many Americans may also be wondering with you if a presidential salute is authorized in this, or any other, setting.

There was quite a bit of publicity following Obama's appearance at Dover AFB, Delaware, to pay his respects as the remains of fallen service members and DEA agents killed in Afghanistan were returned to the United States.

Many critics roundly criticized Obama, who almost immediately after taking office in 2009 lifted the ban on photographing the return of fallen service members. Was he really paying his respects? Or was he just exploiting these soldiers who gave the ultimate sacrifice by grabbing a photo opp - maybe hoping to deflect some of the criticism stemming from his delay in deciding on a request by Gen. Stanley McChrystal to send more troops to Afghanistan?

Now-famous photos of Obama on the presidential campaign trail failing to place his hand over his heart (and instead offering his "crotch salute") during the performance of the national anthem add fuel to the firestorm of criticism.

According to, President Ronald Reagan began the practice of saluting members of our armed forces in 1981. Such salutes are generally not rendered by one not in uniform, even active duty service members.

No American president before Reagan had ever returned a salute, including former five-star Army General Dwight D. Eisenhower. Customarily, an officer in uniform does not salute enlisted personnel or officers of lower rank.

The military salute is a sign of respect, rendered to one senior in rank, which is then returned by the senior as a sign of mutual respect.

The president traditionally is briefed on proper military protocol by the White House military office, which is staffed by members of each service. But according to Nancy Brinker, President George W. Bush's former chief of protocol, the president generally makes decisions about how he wishes to conduct business, and some customs can be altered.

President Obama broke from military protocol early in his presidency by extending his hand to shake that of an enlisted Marine standing in salute at the base of the steps to Marine One, the president's helicopter. The startled Marine shook the president's hand, and then resumed his salute.

President Obama startles saluting Marine by reaching to shake his hand.

President Obama startles saluting Marine by reaching out
to shake his hand in this FOX News Channel photo.

Federal statutes specifying flag protocol limited the right to salute the flag to those currently serving or veterans who have previously served in the military, when in uniform. That law was amended in 2008 to permit veterans to render military salutes to the flag even when not in uniform.

The only exception is the sitting president, because he is also Commander-in-Chief of our nation's military.

Only two presidents in recent history have never served in the military - Barack Obama and Bill Clinton, both Democrats.

Every other American president since the end of World War II has served in our military during times of war:

  • Harry Truman, COL, USAR;
  • Dwight D. Eisenhower, General of the Army, USA (who was Supreme Allied Commander in World War II);
  • John F. Kennedy, LT, USN;
  • Lyndon Johnson, CDR, USNR;
  • Richard Nixon, CDR, USNR;
  • Jimmy Carter, LT, USN;
  • Ronald Reagan, CPT, USAR, USAAC;
  • George H.W. Bush, LT, USN; and
  • George W. Bush, 1LT, Texas Air National Guard.

So John, the short answer to your question is yes, by virtue of his position as Commander-in-Chief (which is questioned by many), Barack Obama is authorized to render a presidential salute in this situation.

Comments for Presidential Salute

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Respect for President Obama
by: Mrs. Foster

I am saddened to read the contempt that so many of you have for President Obama. You complain that he disrespects the veterans, yet you in turn are insolent toward the leader of the free world.

As Americans, we should support our leaders. Even if you don't like the man, we have a duty to "respect the office." Trying to embarrass our leader because he should or should not salute is not what the discussion should be.

These are perilous times folks. In March, North Korean Supreme Leader, Kim Jong-Un posed near a nuclear warhead. Now that, people, is a topic for discussion.

God bless America.

Mrs. Foster, let me see if I can help you understand the contempt that President Obama has earned among veterans and military families, who have personal "skin in the game."

You say we should respect our leaders. That's part of the problem - he's not a leader. He's an organizer.

He started his presidency with an apology tour, apologizing around the world for America and bowing to foreign leaders. He doesn't respect the office himself, so how can we respect him in it?

Many of our soldiers, sailors, airmen and marines died or suffered catastrophic injuries in the campaign to liberate Iraq. Then Obama takes office, announces exactly the date he will withdraw troops, and does so, leaving a vacuum that was quickly filled by ISIS.

No military tactician will tell you it's a good idea to telegraph your next move to your adversary. He doesn't respect his responsibility to recognize the sacrifice that has been made by our troops when he hands that hard-won territory back to a government he knows is too weak to defend it, and creates a vacuum conveniently filled by ISIS.

Maybe you don't get it, but Americans have already fought, bled and died to protect that ground and its people, and our president, by his inept policies, has in essence handed it back to the terrorists.

Our military has a history, since its inception, of leaving no one behind, or without support. Yet, when American diplomats were under attack in Libya, he and his secretary of state (Mrs. Clinton) not only did nothing to send aid, they further gave stand down orders to troops that were poised and ready to go render aid. American diplomats and veterans died, unnecessarily, because the President turned a blind eye and refused to send help, and then he and Mrs. Clinton continued to perpetuate a lie about the cause of the attack. He was right there as Mrs. Clinton looked into the faces of their devastated families and lied to them about that. How can we respect him or what he has turned the office into?

Then he makes a deal with Iran that guarantees the largest state sponsor of terrorism will eventually have nuclear weapons, which endangers every American. And pays "ransom" for the release of Americans, which just put a price on the head of every American overseas, including especially our troops.

America began its policy of not paying ransom under President Thomas Jefferson. To whom did he refuse to pay ransom? The Muslim Barbary Pirates, who were terrorizing shipping in the Mediterranean and parts of the eastern Atlantic. They routinely captured ships and sold the crews into slavery. Mr. Jefferson decided it was time to put an end to their bullying of ships on the sea, and sent our Marines to handle the problem.

That's why the Marines' "fight song," starts out, "From the halls of Montezuma TO THE SHORES OF TRIPOLI ...." Most Americans have no idea what that reference means, but it refers to our Marines defeating Muslim terrorism more than 200 years ago. And our Marines could easily defeat them again, if Mr. Obama and his team would untie their right hands and let them do their jobs.

By the way, that's also where the term "Barbarian" originates, because the Mohammedans (as they were called then) were so cruel. In fact, the Marine got their nickname of "leathernecks" because of the leather band they wore around their necks to thwart Muslim terrorists who were trying to behead them. Today's Muslim terrorists are still trying to behead everyone who does not believe as they do, and Mr. Obama fails to do what is necessary to protect Americans and the rest of the world.

Obama and his administration have done more damage to America than all our previous enemies combined. He has created policy after policy that seem to us decidedly "un-American." And despite claiming to be a Christian, he says nothing about the persecution and beheading of Christians, and promotes teaching Islam in our schools when not only is Christianity not allowed to be taught, but Christians are not even allowed to pray there.

There's so much more, but I just don't have time to list all the ways Obama has betrayed America.

I hope that helps to give you an inkling why Obama is held in contempt by much of the military and veteran population.

Anyone else care to add their comments to help Mrs. Foster understand?

Commander and chief?
by: Anonymous

If he is the Commander and Chief, does that not make him the highest ranking officer?

Actually, by law, the nation’s highest-ranking military officer is the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff. In this capacity, he serves as the principal military adviser to the President, the Secretary of Defense and the National Security Council.

TV protocol
by: Steve

I noticed in the recent Chattanooga attack that Obama was sitting when he made his brief speech. Is there a protocol for the President to be at least "standing" when speaking about slain soldiers?

Not that we're aware of, Steve. Perhaps if there's a reader who knows of one, they'll let us know. Thanks for your question.

Presidential Salute
by: LTC (Ret) Richard Cardillo

I am dismayed (and have written the White House on several occasions) on how the President, seemingly reluctantly, returns the salute of the Marine guard at the foot of the Presidential Helicopter.

Since my early days as a Lieutenant, I was schooled to always render a cheery word to the one saluting me as a sign of acknowledgment of our mutual responsibility to the traditions of the military.

It is not of sign of subservience but a greeting between men of arms. The president should smile and say something friendly to that soldier or Marine. He does not.

I wish he would, instead of walking silently as if he is embarrassed to be Commander in Chief.

Rich Cardillo

Thank you, sir, for your service.

I have an idea the reluctant salute to which you object may be the result of briefings by the President's protocol officers following the incident in which he was considered "overly friendly" with the Marine guard by reaching out to shake the young man's hand while he rendered his salute to the President (photo above).

As you mention, if the President is uncomfortable returning the salute, he could always say a friendly word and smile or nod his head in acknowledgment of the salute.

by: Anonymous

You mention the hand over the heart during the National Anthem.

I've never done this. The hand over your heart is for the Pledge of Allegiance. You stand for the National Anthem.

Title 36, United States Code, Chapter 10, Section 171 specifies the proper conduct during playing of the National Anthem:

"During rendition of the national anthem when the flag is displayed, all present except those in uniform should stand at attention facing the flag with the right hand over the heart.

Men not in uniform should remove their headdress with their right hand and hold it at the left shoulder, the hand being over the heart. Persons in uniform should render the military salute at the first note of the anthem and retain this position until the last note.

When the flag is not displayed, those present should face toward the music and act in the same manner they would if the flag were displayed there."

The President Should Set an Example
by: Mike, Danville, IL

I have noted that President Obama does neither option but has his hands folded at his crotch.

As commander in chief, he probably should observe some form of respect for our nation's flag.

Mike, we agree. If you'll notice, it seems that his advisers have convinced Obama that his lack of respect for our nation's symbols - the flag, the national anthem, etc. - rankles many Americans.

If you watched his appearance at the memorial service in Tucson honoring the victims of the mass shooting that injured Congresswoman Gabby Giffords, you may have noticed that he placed his hand over his heart during the playing of the national anthem, and I believe he was also wearing a flag lapel pin, which he originally refused to do.

So apparently he's respecting (or at least pretending to respect) the wishes of the millions of us who were offended by his lack of respect for our country's history and its symbols.

It seems to be a pretty clear (but unfortunately not rare) example of a politician going against his own principles in an attempt to get re-elected.

by: Anonymous

I'm a former unit level commander in the ARMY. Though I'm not an Obama supporter, the position of the POTUS is to be respected by military personnel whether or not the person in that position has earned that respect. (This goes for any president or ranking official).

I am grateful that Obama has been coached by his military staff and advisors and returns the respect shown by soldiers and to the flag. The soldiers and the flag have earned the right...

Now: as to hugging the Medal of Honor recipient? THAT was unprofessional. From the soldier's wife or Michelle Obama? No problem. But from a senior individual, it implies familiarity and favoritism. The handshake was appropriate and sufficient.

Saluting and Commander In Chief
by: Anonymous

"Customarily, one in uniform does not salute enlisted personnel or officers of lower rank."
Huh, This makes no sense to me.

Federalist #69:
To paraphrase Alexander Hamilton, the President is not Commander In Chief UNTIL called into actual service by Congress, i.e., a Declaration of War.

No Declaration of War has been made since WWII and yes there is a big difference between Declaring War and authorizing the President to wage war(which incidentally is not found as a power or a means in the Constitution.

We'll tackle your two points in order.

In the U.S. military, personnel in uniform are required to render a salute when they meet and recognize persons entitled (by grade) to a salute, except when inappropriate or impractical . . . .

Those entitled to a salute (by grade):

President of the United States (Commander-in-Chief)
Commissioned Officers
Warrant Officers
Any Medal of Honor recipient
Officers of friendly foreign countries

Army Regulation 600-20; Army Command Policy, paragraph 4-9 reads:

"The salute is widely misunderstood outside the military. Some consider it to be a gesture of servility since the junior extends a salute to the senior, but we know that it is quite the opposite. The salute is an expression that recognizes each other as a member of the profession of arms; that they have made a personal commitment of self-sacrifice to preserve our way of life. The fact that the junior extends the greeting first is merely a point of etiquette -- a salute extended or returned makes the same statement."

The quote you referenced above simply recognizes that enlisted personnel do not salute each other, even when one is senior to the other; and that it is the junior of the two members who initiates the salute (therefore officers do not initiate a salute with another officer of lower rank). It would have been clearer had it said one "does not initiate a salute . . ."

Now does it make sense?

With regard to Federalist #69, one of the Federalist Papers authored by Alexander Hamilton, we see how you could have drawn that conclusion, but that's not what it actually says. The relevant portion says:

"The President is to be the 'commander-in-chief of the army and navy of the United States, and of the militia of the several States, when called into the actual service of the United States....'"

This is an excellent example of why proper word placement, phrasing and punctuation is critical to convey the meaning of the written word. The second comma shouldn't be there, and rewording could have made the meaning more clear.

What this passage means is that the President is always the commander-in-chief of the army and navy, and when the state militias are called into the actual service of the United States (federalized), he becomes their commander-in-chief also during the time they are in federal service.

I hope this helps to clarify these two issues for you.

The Right to Salute is Earned
by: Brenda, Lake City, FL

The Salute is something earned in the military.

It should not be something for someone as a President to "change", this should not be his/her right.

It really is disturbing every time I see him saluting while not under cover, and he has never served in the military.

He is nothing more than a DOD employee who will be out of office in 4 years.

If he really wants to respect the military, then he can stop saluting!

Presidential Salute
by: Carl

Like it or not, Mr. Obama is Commander in Chief and can pretty well do as he pleases.

My salute to Sen. Inhofe!

Disrespect in the Military
by: Anonymous

These comments have been moved to our discussion of Barack Obama's eligibility to be President.

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