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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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 CafÃ©. The entire ceremony takes less than ten minutes.
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.
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.
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