Flag ceremonies in the military

Any era, country, or service branch. Raising the flag in the morning or lowering it at night, or something in between. What’s done, how is it done, how many participate, and what symbolism is there to the ceremony? I’m interested.

I was in Boy Scouts and college ROTC. Both teach you the proper flag raising and lowering ceremony. It is getting fuzzy but raising and lowering the American flag takes at least two people to do it properly and it is taken seriously in the military although I am sure that many businesses just have a lone janitor to do it in the morning and evening.

Wikipedia has some good information on proper flag folds and etiquette along with the official U.S. guidelines.


US Army posting here. We practice, and we rehearse. At the Basic Non-commissioned Officers Course I recently attended, we had to raise the flag for the entire post. We set our watches, we rehearsed and we knew when to raise and lower the flag. Seven were appointed to raise and lower the flag. We had two who could also be used if needed and the same seven lowered the flag. The symbolism is to show respect to the Nation that could fly the flag.

I’m not sure if you want a crash course in how to raise and lower the American Flag on a military installation or if you want to know how to post the colors in your driveway.

Hope I can help.

SSG Schwartz

Ordinarily the flag raising ceremony includes a color guard and someone who raises the flag. I forget what the bugle call is, but the local navy base plays a record of the Star Spangled Banner. On occasion there is a ceremonial flag raising with the troops assembled, the band present and all the bells and whistles.

Lowering the flag is done the same way with the bugle call being Retreat. Again, on special occasions there is a full ceremony.

If you hear the bugle or the anthem you are supposed to stop, face the direction of the music, come to attention and salute.

It’s A.

I’m a former Boy Scout and know the Flag Code pretty well. I’m interested in military ceremonies of all kinds concerning flags.

Depends on how “showy” you want to be. Really, it takes two people. One to hold the flag, one to attach it. Then one runs it up while the other salutes. When it’s at the top, the runner salutes too, and that’s that. Specifically, when running it up or down, one hand should hold the bottom of the loop of the string while the other does the moving, so no hand-over-hand stuff.

I’ve heard two versions of the speed of the raising/lowering. Version one says up is slow so as to be enjoyed while lowering is to be quick so you don’t have to bear watching your flag come down. Version two says the opposite. Up is quick so as to appear spirited and vigorous while lowering is slow, as if you regret having to take it down.

Warning .pdf link. Here is where you can learn the US Army standards for flag raising and lowering.

SSG Schwartz

True story about evening retreat ceremony.

Fort Leonard Wood, Missouri, Spring, 1968.

Big flag pole and 105 mm gun in front of the post headquarters building. Each evening at 4:30 a half squad of MPs and a trumpet player from the on post army band attended to lowering the flag. The trumpeter bugled Retreat while the flag came down and at the last note a blank round was fired for the 105 mm gun. As David Simmons wrote people within ear shot are supposed to face the flag and salute. On an Army post that includes civilians. At FLW there were thousands of civilian employees on post and at 4:30 in the evening a fair number of them were streaming past the post HQ in cars and not about to stop for anything.

The failure of passing citizens to render proper honors for Retreat offended the new deputy post commander, a newly appointed brigadier general who, as things turned out, did not have enough to do. The Deputy CG took it upon himself to go out into the middle of a four lane street and personally stop traffic for the Retreat Ceremony. That went on for a few days with out any of the locals taking it into their head to run the Deputy CG down.

One lovely spring evening things went wrong. Some fool in the clean up detail had chosen to ditch the accumulated debris from in the driveway and turn around in front of the HQ by dumping it down the bore of the 105 mm gun. The poor MP corporal in charge of the detail neglected to look up the gun tube to see if he could see daylight. The Corporal shoved a blank round, like the world’s biggest shotgun shell, into the breach, rigged the lanyard and stood ready. The flag came down, the trumpeter toodeled away on the theme song for the Twenty Mule Team Show, as the last note echoed across the Ozarks the Corporal jerked the lanyard and the cannon roared out. The Deputy CG was about 30 yards down range. He disappeared in a rolling cloud of cigarette butts, pea gravel, gum wrappers, and miscellaneous trash. When the dust cleared the now somewhat disheveled general officer strode to his waiting car, climbed in and was rapidly driven away leaving behind an MP corporal who surely knew that his days of enjoying the privileges of rank were numbered.

All of this was observed by a staff officer whose duty it was to receive the folded flag from the MP detachment and put it away for the night. I was the staff duty officer that night. No notation was made in the HQ log about the incident.

I’ve lived on Army posts and Navy bases for most of my life, from the 1970s into the 2000s.

Civilian absolutely stop during flag ceremonies. (They don’t salute, though.) If a civilian is driving, they are expected to pull over. If they want to be gung ho about it, they may get out of the vehicle and stand at attention facing the flag/music. Army personnel salute; Navy personnel only salute if they are in uniform–if in civilian clothes, Navy personnel simply stand at attention like the civilians are expected to do.

Morning flag ceremonies generally occur at the same time every day, such as 0800. Evening ceremonies take place at sunset. If you are driving along in the morning or evening, and you see vehicles pulling over, that’s your clue to do the same.

Most bases have repeater loudspeakers to transmit the music over the whole base. It’s usually the national anthem in the morning, and taps in the evening.


Used to pull Officer of the Day at the Navy Yard, in Philly. OOD is responsible for colors, and oversees the color detail. The way it was done there, in the mid 90s (as the base was being shuttered), was as follows:

Morning Colors:
About 7:50 AM, the Color Guard mustered at the HQ, for inspection by the OOD.

About 7:54, the Color Guard takes position at the base of the driveway at HQ, the OOD takes station just inside the HD entrance.

At 7:55 AM, ‘Prep’ sounds by way of recording (the OOD - me - having made sure the tape was set correctly). The color guard advances to the flagstaff. The OOD advances from the HQ to the top of the circle above the flagstaff.

At 8:00 AM, the tape having advanced to the National Anthem, the Color Guard raises the colors, whilst the OOD salutes for the duration of the National Anthem. Once the ensign is at peak, the color guard steps back and salutes the colors. As the National Anthem ends, the Color Guard and OOD drop their salutes, and return smartly to starting positions.
Evening Colors:
Starting at ten minutes before sundown, conduct the ceremony as before, save that the ensign is being lowered, and taps is played, in place of the Natinal Anthem.
Whilst colors was in progress, all traffic in ear-shot of Colors was to stop, and all personnel out of doors were required to stop, face the flagpole, and render hand salute if military. Civilians were technically permitted to walk on if they cared to. In practice, though, they stopped and faced the flagpole anyway, hand over heart - I never once saw a civilian take a step between commencement and completion of Colors.

Outside ‘edit window.’

Briskly up to full hoist.

Slowly down, ideally, with the ensign coming to the hands of the color guard just as Taps ends.

If at Half Mast, briskly to full hoist, then slowly lowered to half-staff. At Retreat, a half-masted flag is hoisted briskly from half-mast to full hoist, then slowly lowered as usual.

I don’t know how they do it in the Navy, but in the Army its Reveille when the flag goes up and Retreat when it comes down, usually around 6:00a and 5:00p respectively. Taps is something different entirely, usually played around 10:00p and of course at military funerals. The National Anthem is just for ceremonies and baseball games; it is not a daily event.

p.s. I don’t know how to spell Reveille, but it’s pronounced “Re’-villy”.

I should have emphasized that the National Anthem/Taps is for Navy.

And civilians should remove their hat and place their hand over their heart, especially if the National Anthem is being played.

I’d forgotten what’s played on Army posts. I haven’t actually lived on one since high school over 20 years ago.

At Fort Riley, Kansas, before Vietnam got really serious, that is before the First Infantry Division went over in the summer and fall of 1965, the place was just crazy about bugle calls. The damned things were going off all day, from First Call very early in the morning until Tattoo and Taps fairly late in the evening. Maybe it was because at the old western posts like Riley and Still the bugle stuff was really impressive. Maybe it was because the main post and the satellite camps had an integrated PA system. We even had music on the firing ranges. Imagine trying to instruct on the subtleties of the .50 caliber machine gun or the 106 mm recoilless rifle with Mess Call, Adjutant’s Call, Stable Call, Boots and Saddles, Watering Call and God-knows-what-else Call going off at seemingly random intervals. In any event, the two flag ceremonies were a major big deal and everything stopped in its tracks for both.

Reveille is not the signal to get out of bed (You got to get up, you got to get up, you got to get up in the morning). It is the music for the morning flag raising. Woe the poor junior officer who with troops in formation did not stop everything and render honors. I got caught loading a platoon on to trucks and was mildly criticized for not getting them into formation for the purpose.

Also unpleasant was being caught by Retreat in the PX parking lot with an armload of laundry and a screaming two-year old. Just try to maintain some sort of a dignified appearance as an example for the men in that situation. It doesn’t help when your wife decides that this is the funniest thing she has ever seen in her life and breaks out in almost repressed giggling.

It is my recollection that Reveille was at about 7:00 AM and that Retreat was at about 4:30 in the afternoon. Retreat was two bugle calls, To the Colors, followed by Retreat proper.

As Tranquilis and robby mentioned, conducting colors on a naval base is pretty much the same as in any of the other services.

Onboard a submarine in port, the colors detail is typically just two men. They were usually assigned on the watchbill, but more often than not ended up being two duty personnel who were diligent enough to bring their dress uniforms on their duty day. (Unfortunately, many weren’t, and if you were junior enough to be on the colors detail and DIDN’T bring them, you were in for a rough duty day.)

If you were smart enough to keep an eye on the time and get dressed well before morning and evening colors, you could easily make it topside in time. If not, the announcement of “first call to colors” over the 1MC meant you had 5 minutes to dress out quickly and post yourself by the flagstaff or jackstaff. The Duty Officer and Duty Chief Petty Officer were usually on the brow awaiting colors by this time, so bell-tapping and barely making it on time was yet another way to ensure a painful duty day.

The assignments for forward and aft colors were usually specified on the watchbill, but the members of the colors detail would usually assess the condition of their uniforms upon seeing each other topside, and the more squared-away and presentable sailor would head aft to raise or lower the ensign. The other sailor would head forward to the jack where no one will really pay attention to him.

This is only fair, because in inclement weather the trek to the jackstaff is far more treacherous than to the flagstaff. I have seen many a shipmate come dangerously close to going in the drink trying to squeeze past the sail on an icy deck. Our dress shoes were simply not designed to walk on a wet/icy submarine hull. In REALLY bad weather, we were permitted to execute colors in a working uniform, but this was extraordinarily rare.

In the winter, the five minutes between first call and colors proper are five of the longest minutes any sailor will ever endure. It’s cold. Your white hat provides absolutely no protection for your ears from the elements, and many were the days that I returned below after colors with icicles hanging from my ears.

When it’s time to raise or lower the flags, the topside watch (standing on the brow with the Duty Officer and DCPO) blows his whistle once and the flags are raised/lowered accordingly. Sometimes not a really easy task to do alone, especially in the aforementioned inclement weather or when handling the larger holiday ensign. After the flags are raised/lowered he blows three times (the “Carry On”) signal, and colors is completed.

Ah, I miss those days sometimes.

Swedish Armed Forces:

Flag is raised at 0800 (March through October) or 0900 (other dates)
Flag is lowered at sundown but no later than 2100

At places north of the polar circle the sun might not rise at all, if so they lower it at a fictional sunset at 1150. Yes, that’s before noon.

Everyone salutes the raising/lowering flag, but a “salute” in this context is not necesserily a hand salute. A person not in uniform (e.g. a civilian) or uniformed with uncovered head (e.g. indoors) salutes by standing at attention in the flags direction.