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Retreat and To The Color

Retreat is a daily ceremony held at all military installations as the national flag is lowered at the end of the day. The ceremony of Retreat is derived from the one of the three required formations in the Army. These formations date back to the Revolutionary War and were held every day in garrison settings to take a roll call. These were held at Reveille (in the morning), Retreat (at the end of the duty day) and Tattoo (before lights out). Over the years the ceremonies evolved into a flag raising during Reveille and flag lowering at Retreat to mark the end of the official duty day. Tattoo is still sounded on bases an hour prior to Taps but there is no ceremonial function to it nor any formation required.

For a PDF of “Twenty Bugle Calls” which has the music and explanation of the call and origin PLEASE CLICK HERE

Today, the Retreat ceremony serves a twofold purpose. It signals the end of the official duty day and serves as a ceremony for paying respect to the flag. Retreat may be performed as part of a ceremony with troop formation or played on a sound system.



The protocol during the bugle call of Retreat is to stand and face the flag or music if you can’t see the flag. Retreat is then followed by the playing of the Star-Spangled Banner or the bugle call To The Color (by the way it’s “Color” not “Colors”). Some bases will fire a cannon shot in between. It is appropriate (required if you are in the military) to then render proper Honors to the flag i.e. salute or place your hand over your heart. As the Star-Spangled Banner or To The Color is played the flag is slowly lowered.

The Naval service does it differently. A bugler sounds Attention and the flag is lower while Retreat is sounded. The call Carry On is then sounded to terminate salutes. In the morning the Navy sounds To The Color as the flag is raised while the Army and Air Force raises it to Reveille.

The protocol for Retreat and To The Color (when sounded on bases at the end of the duty day around 5 pm) only applies if you are outside. Personnel inside building are not required to participate while indoors. If you in a car on base you are require to stop your vehicle and although not required to get out remain, according to instructions, “seated at attention.” It has been a running complaint for years about military personnel who run inside buildings so they don’t have to stand for the 2-3 minutes it takes to honor our country.

However on most bases military personnel along with civilians observe this time honored tradition of paying respects to our flag and nation

Here are some videos of Retreat and To the Color

Reveille and Retreat Ceremonies at the Virginia Military Institute (Cadet Jack Dixon (’14) is the bugler on a bugle I gifted him for graduation)

Robin Williams reacts to Retreat and To The Color

Kids on a Marine Base react to Retreat (note that the call is played slowly (as the flag is lowered) and is followed by Carry On

A Retreat Ceremony is held every day at Disneyland. Visiting musical groups get to participate.

The British Army Beats Retreat

Followed by Sunset

The Retreat ceremony held each day at the India-Pakistan border is an interesting one


  1. Mike Coelho Mike Coelho June 13, 2020

    The USS JOHN F KENNEDY did a retreat ceremony for dignitaries in each Med port. I played Retreat and had to time it to finish as the flight deck elevators reached our level. The Marine drill team was on the elevator and went through a great routine for the Ambassador’s and dignitaries. Will never forget the Navy School Of Music and my time as a Navy musician. Mike Coelho USN ⚓️

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