Flag Retreat

I’m a patriotic sap. Whenever Old Glory passes by, I unapologetically tear up and get a lump in my throat. And I’m sure I’m not alone.

American Flag

Disney World plays on this emotion with several attractions. First, there is Hall of Presidents in the Magic Kingdom. This stirring presentation introduces us to all 44 Chief Executives and includes words from Washington, Lincoln, and Obama. Nearby, a replica of the Liberty Bell reminds us of the freedom we enjoy.

Hall of Presidents

Liberty Bell

Over at Epcot, Ben Franklin and Mark Twain present us with a 30 minute history of our country in the American Adventure. Before each show, the Voices of Liberty inspire us with a stirring selection of all-American favorites.

American Adventure

Ben Franklin and Mark Twain

Voices of Liberty

But there is another, lesser known celebration of America that happens each evening in Town Square at the Magic Kingdom. At 5pm, Flag Retreat takes place with ample pomp and pageantry. If you haven’t already witnessed this event, I strongly urge you to do so.

Around 4:45 each evening, the area surrounding the flag pole in Town Square is cordoned off by Disney security guards and Main Street cast members. At promptly 5pm, the Walt Disney World Band strikes up a lively medley of American patriotic favorites. When the music concludes, they march from the Train Station into Town Square followed by several security guards and the pre-selected Veteran of the Day.

Town Square

Walt Disney World Band

Band Marching

Security Guards and Veteran of the Day

The band forms a semicircle around the flag pole and begins to play the Star Spangled Banner. As they do, the Stars and Stripes are slowly lowered. It is then retrieved by the guards and properly folded.

Band Around the Flagpole

Flag Folding

Once the flag is folded, it is handed to the Veteran of the Day and a brief tribute is read detailing his or her military service. A Disney photographer is on hand to capture all of the festivities. In addition, the friends and family of the Veteran of the Day are given a special place to stand so they may capture the moment on film.

Veteran Tribute

The band then plays the anthem for each of the U.S. branches of the military, Coast Guard, Army, Marines, Navy, and Air Force. When complete, the band, security guards, and the Veteran of the Day march off toward Tony’s Town Square Café. The entire ceremony takes less than ten minutes.

Marching to Tony's Town Square Cafe

The Veteran of the Day is then given a certificate indicating that he or she took part in the event. They are also given a special Flag Retreat pin and asked not to trade it or sell it, but keep it as a remembrance of this wonderful ceremony. The Veteran of the Day may select (free of charge) one of the photos taken by the Disney photographer and may purchase others. The Veteran of the Day does NOT get to keep the flag.

Veteran of the Day

For many years, doves were released during the ceremony. They flew from the Train Station, down Main Street, past the Castle, to their backstage cages. Unfortunately, birds of prey caught on to the timing of their release and were snatching dinner in midair, much to the horror of guests (and the doves). This practice was discontinued a number of years ago.

So, how do you become a Veteran of the Day?

Before the Magic Kingdom opens, cast members may be mingling with the crowd waiting to get in. If in their conversation, the cast member discovers someone is a veteran, they may ask them if they would like to participate in this ceremony. But this certainly isn’t always the case. More often than not, it’s the first person to arrive at City Hall and ask for the honor. If you have any desire to be selected, you must make City Hall your first stop immediately after the park opens. Although this procedure does change occasionally, at the moment, you must apply on the day of the event. No advance reservations are taken.

The veteran does not need to apply in person. A friend or family member can do it for them, but it will be helpful if you know their branch of service and rank. Also, no proof of service is required. Disney hopes that in this case, honesty will prevail.

Just in case you’re wondering who the veteran is in my pictures, it’s my older brother, Dale. After much cajoling on my part, I finally convinced him and his wife Pat to visit Disney World for the first time in 2007. Since they did this more to please me than themselves, I wanted to make sure I provided them with a vacation they would never forget. On the morning we visited the Magic Kingdom, I made sure we were at the gates well before opening. As soon as we passed beneath the Train Station, I excused myself for a moment and dashed into City Hall. Luckily, I was the first to request this special honor. I told my brother nothing about this. Later in the day, I made sure we were at the designated spot at 4:45pm. When the security guard approached us and asked if one of us was the Veteran of the Day, I told my brother, “Don’t ask any questions. Just go with this gentleman and do what he tells you.”

That night, when I dropped Dale and Pat off at their hotel my brother said to me, “You might as well cancel tomorrow because nothing you can do will top today.”

Below is a video of the entire Flag Retreat Ceremony. Enjoy.

Reminder: If you send a comment, you must type “blog” in the appropriate field or your comment will end up in the Junk Folder.

36 Replies to “Flag Retreat”

  1. One thing the Disney folks usually get right is a patriotic moment. A very moving experience, thank you very much. God Bless America and may those who have given all rest in peace.

  2. Jack,
    I like many others just happened to stumble on the flag ceremony this past summer. My daughter and I truly enjoyed watching it. Not only was the band playing, but the Dapper Dans had everyone recite the pledge of allegience and sing The Star Spangled Banner before the flag was lowered. It is a very moving ceremony, but I didn’t realize that a veteran was honored during the ceremony because we were too far from the flag to see that it was happening. I too thought how sad it was that people were just walking past, not even stopping long enough to pay respects to the flag. Thank your brother for his service to our country.

  3. A few years ago I was lucky enough to be on May 30 at Magic Kingdom…it was the first time that I heard they announced a special flag retreat ceremony…I didn’t know that is a special day for americans, and as I foreign wanted to share…
    Was so so so so so special…a very touching moment. Well as always I started to cry, and even we have special and very respectful patriotic moments in Chile, this day is something I will never forget.

  4. I have been to DW many times but was always too busy to stop in for the Flag Retreat. I managed to be walking around Main Street right before the procession and found a great place to watch. I have to say that I got a bit misty. Another great reason I love Disney.

  5. When we were there in May 2010, my son, who is a boy scout, got to say the pledge of allegiance for the ceremony. It was quite an honor, and a really special time. The flag retreat truly is a hidden gem.

  6. I try never to miss this when I go to Disneyland. I go to honor my Father who was a Marine in WWII and my older cousins who were in Viet Nam. On average, there have been six vets who come up when their service branch is called. 2 weeks ago one of the vets was an elderly man in a wheel chair. But, he got to his feet with the help of the vets next to him for the National Anthem. There were many tears and much applause that day.

  7. Not cool, Jack, you just made me cry at work! 🙂 Seriously, thank you for the blog, great video and the words of your brother at the end of the day. God Bless America! (and go Phils!)

  8. In August of 2007, my brother-in-law and father-in-law were told they were they first father/son pair to do the flag retreat. My father-in-law was in the Air Force in the 1960s; my brother-in-law was in the Army Reserve and served 13 months in Iraq. His family took my in-laws to WDW and stayed at Shades of Green; later they set this up on their Magic Kingdom day. Everyone was very moved by it.

  9. Jack,
    Thank you so much for talking about my favorite main street event. I had the privilidge to be the Vet of the Day on Dec 22 2008. I had just gotten back from my second tour in Iraq ten days before then and my entire family was there to celebrate with me. It was so special to be able to be a part of the Patriotic Magic that I really cant explain it. The Dapper Dans were singing wonderfully and the band sounded so good in the crisp December air. When we marched down Main Street I really dont think I could have been any more proud. It will always be a treasured memory.

  10. This is a very moving ceremony and a fantastic way to celebrate our veterans. It’s also extremely well done which is nothing new for Disney.

    My oldest son (10 at the time) was chosen one of our days in 2007 to help lead the crowd in the Pledge of Allegiance with the Dapper Dans and it was a moment he’ll never forget. We have great photos from that day.

    Thanks for doing this review Mr Spence as it is definitely a ceremony that many don’t know about.

  11. What a great ceremony and what an experience! I’m so happy for you and your brother to have this experience. I want to put my dad in for it next time we’re there. He was in the Army in Vietnam. I find it sad though, that all those people walking in the background of your video couldn’t find the time to stop and pay respects to the flag during the national anthem.

  12. I love the story about your brother. When we were there last year I went straight to city hall and they told me that they did not let people request anyone to be veteran of the day at city hall anymore it was completely random and someone was selected from the street.

    Jack’s Comment:

    The selection process changes periodically. It can get confusing keeping up with everything at Disney that is always in flux.

  13. Hi Jack,

    Great blog as usual, especially the story about your brother. So now we have to know, were you successful in getting them to love WDW?

    Cheers, Wendy

    Jack’s Answer:

    Actually, yes. My brother and his wife were so taken with Disney World that then they returned to California, they tried to talk their adult daughter, husband, and grandkids to return with them. Unfortunately, they were unsuccessful. Like so many Californians who have never been to Walt Disney World, they think it’s just a carbon copy of Disneyland.

  14. hey jack
    wow what a great story to share with everybody. I was terary eyed while reading this blog. This is something i wish i could do with my grandfather when we visit next year. I know it would make his day. can’t wait for your next blog and as always keep up the great work.

  15. Wow! You learn something new everyday. What a wonderfully fantastic tradition. This was so touching to watch! Thanks for sharing and thank you to your brother for his service!

  16. disny & all that it entails holds a special meaning for different people . i have witnessed the flag retreat many times & it has never failed to move me. all the pain & sacriface so many men & women have made for this great country. thank you disney, thank you jack & thanks to all of our brave men & women in uniform.

  17. Jack, love your column 🙂

    My brother and I signed my Dad up to be the Veteran of the day on his birthday 3 years ago and it was a very moving ceremony to watch. What made it even more special was that we had given my Dad a surprise birthday in Disney, with one of his brothers and family there for the trip. It was a really great experience and one that I recommend to all Vets I know who go. We got a great family photo afterwards! To this day, it remains one of the family’s favorite Disney memories!

  18. What a spectacular blog as usual! The flag retreat ceremony (on both coasts as a matter of fact)is one of my favorite events at the Magic Kingdom (and Disneyland). Every time I’m in the Magic Kingdom I make sure to schedule my day around the ceremony. Thanks so much for featuring the flag retreat! 🙂

  19. I was lucky enough to stumble upon this as I was leaving main street station last trip. I had no idea they did this with the band and everything. I am now making it a point to see it next time.

  20. I just saw this last week at DLR. It makes me so proud to be an American! They don’t seem to do the Veteran of the day, but a former Marine stood at the bast of the flag during the Marine Corp hymn. Later the leader of the color guard thanked him for his service to his country. We all got a lump in our throat at that.
    We need to continue to focus on what is good and decent in our country.

  21. I recall watching the Disneyland California flag retreat a couple years ago, and all veterans present in the audience were asked to participate by standing closest to the ceremony. At the time, only two people identfied themselves.

  22. What wonderful memories this blog has brought back to me! On Easter Sunday , 2005 my parents, my daughters and I entered Magic Kingdom about 4 pm. A cast member approached my father who was wearing a Navy Veteran baseball cap, asking my Dad to participate in the ceremony. It was very moving for us all, the band playing and the military style in which the security personnel performed. The chance to be the Veteran of the Day was a very proud memory we have of my Dad. He was a proud veteran, loved the American flag and loved his vacations to Disney with his family. Thanks for reminding me of one the many special memories disney has created for our family. Connie

  23. Jack,

    It’s the little hidden details like the Flag Retreat Ceremony that keeps me going back and makes me such a huge fan of Disney. The first time I saw this I too teared up. It is very moving. I did not even know about this hidden jem till a friend told me about it and we made a point to watch. It’s a very wonderful ceremony and I am very happy to know that it goes on daily at WDW! Thank you to all of our Veterans and Thanks again Jack for another great blog and shinning light on a very nice hidden jem!


  24. Oh Jack, you never disappoint me with your blogs. My sister was the first one to point out this ceremony to me back in 2005. The following year, my husband and I returned with his family. My husband is a veteran and I surprised him in the same manner you surprised your brother. He almost fouled up the surprise by napping too long that day. I had a difficult time getting him back to the park earlier than we had originally planned. It was such an honor for him to participate in the Flag Retreat. We’ll never forget that moment.

    Thank you for taking the time to do what you do. This is my favorite one of your blog entries to date.

  25. I had wanted to do this for my dad, but we never made it to WDW. Mom had gotten sick twice when we were suppose to go. Anyway, I have yet to experience it. I keep missing it. This past December, I was caught up in EPCOT getting my camera battery charged before going to Mickey Christmas Party event.
    I think this is a wonderful way to honor our vets. They are so forgotten and not as respected as they should be.
    Do you know if a former high school ROTC student is applicable for this honor?

    Jack’s Answer:

    Although no proof of service is requested, this honor is intended for those men and women who actually served (or are still serving) in one of the five branches of the U.S. military.

  26. Jack:
    I have never seen this. Even as many times as we have gone to WDW. Thank you for sharing this. Be sure and thank your brother for his service.

  27. Our first trip to WDW was in Oct. 2007. We didn’t know about the flag retreat and just happened to be in the right place at the right time to see it. We both cried without a care for what others would think.

    Jack, do they do anything special for Veterans Day? We will be at WDW then and wonder if we should make a point of being at MK that particular day.

    Jack’s Answer:

    To be honest, I’ve never seen this ceremony on Veterans Day, so I don’t really know. I’m sure the presenter would make notice of the day, but I doubt that there is any more pomp than usual.

  28. Hi Jack,w
    What a wonderful ceremony.I had heard about this
    Flag ceremomy but had never seen it in person.
    I’m so glad you shared this special day with us.

  29. Jack, what a fantastic gift to give to your brother! I love the flag retreat. The first time I ever witnessed this very moving ceremony, I cried unashamedly. The guy who was veteran of the day was crying too. He looked so proud. I just wish we were as patriotic in England. Most of the kids here (and adults too) don’t even give a second thought to how much the people serving in our armed services give up to keep us ‘free’.

    Earlier this week I was accompanying my mother in law for a hospital check up. When we arrived there was a very old man was waiting too, he was wearing his full military uniform, which I have to add was in immaculate condition. Another elderly guy approached him and recognised his rank (Major), then asked him if he had fought at Arnhem and the old guy nodded. The guy bent down and shook the veteran’s hand, then hugged him and said ‘Thank you Sir, I am grateful and honoured to have met you!’

    My mother in law and I couldn’t speak for a few moments, it was very moving.

    To all those who have served or are serving in the armed forces: THANK YOU, I TRULY APPRECIATE WHAT YOU DO.

  30. Jack,

    That was a really sweet story about your brother. Thanks for sharing that with all of us. I agree that the ceremony is quite beautiful and moving. It especially means a lot when you watch it with a veteran.

  31. Wow Jack that is an amazing surprise! Thank goodness your were the first one to make it to City Hall and put in your request. This was the first time I have seen the Flag Retreat ceremony. Thank you for sharing.


Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *