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Proper Flag terms (printed)

For our COH programs we typically print the words “Presentation of the Colors” in the program at the opening and then at the end of the evening after the “Benediction” by the Chaplains aide, we have the “Retirement of the Colors”. My current SPL feels that the term is misleading in the program and sounds as if we are going to do a flag retirement ceremony (i.e. burn the flags) and not just taking the flags down at the end of the ceremony. Does anyone have suggestions as to what we could list in our programs in place of “Retirement” when we are ending our ceremonies? Or is “Retirement of the Colors” the proper phrase to use for the flag closing at the end of a ceremony?

I’m used to the command “Retire the colors!” as the directive to remove the national and unit colors from the ceremonial space. I’m not sure what else I would call it, other than Retirement of the Colors", although I do recognize the verbal confusion between the “retirement” of a flag that can no longer serve and the ceremonial call to retire the colors.

We have generally referenced a “Flag Retirement Ceremony” in an event program if we’re permanently retiring a flag from service, as opposed to retiring the flag from the ceremonial space.

Maybe call it “closing flag ceremony”? What did your SPL propose as an alternate nomenclature?

Retiring the colors, retire the colors, or retirement of the colors are some correct terms for the closing flags at the end of a formal ceremony like courts of honor.

Troop Courts of Honor (BSA Troop Program Resources)

Troop Closings (BSA Troop Program Resources)

Calling it Closing Flag Ceremony could be an option. Renaming the flag retirement ceremony could also be an option to something like: “Unserviceable Flags Ceremony”. There is no particular ceremony required for disposing of unserviceable flags - they should be destroyed in a dignified way, preferably by burning.

Could use the British “march off the colours”

“Retire the Colors” is a proper term, but (in the military) it usually denotes deactivating, or standing down a unit. Note, the different services can (and do) use different terminology.

There is no “prescribed” terminology for this. IMHO, it is driven by organizational culture and tradition. See the links Jennifer provided above…

And here is the over-arching law: US Code, Section 4 (recommended reading)

As long as you adhere to that, you are not wrong…

If your SPL wants to use different terms, let him. No harm done as long as the intent is to honor the flag (versus kneeling, which is not honoring the flag…)

Presentation of the Colors
Posting the Colors
Unfurling the Colors

Retrieval of the Colors
Securing the Colors
Returning the Colors
Retiring the Colors
Dismissing the Colors


Scouter Rob
Colonel, USAF Retired
(26 years went by in a flash!)

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Agreed, there are differences in terminology and traditions between the different services. In the Army, when a unit is deactivated / activated, the colors are cased / uncased. And formal assemblies conducted indoors begin with the presentation of the colors, referred to as posting the colors, and end with the retirement of the colors.

I found another BSA reference. I could not find the copyright, but I think it is from the discontinued “Troop Program Resources” book, which was for BSA troops and Varsity teams:

https://filestore.scouting.org/filestore/pdf/Ceremonies.pdf (Ceremonies)

It also uses the terms: retire the colors / retiring of the colors for dismissing the colors at the end of ceremonies.

@MichaelaHammel I would suggest showing the SPL the BSA references and letting him make the call.

I think the Program Features guides are still available (in parts) here:

Not quite the same content as the older document, but much of it is still there at troopleader.scouting.org in various places.

ETA: Aha! The closing ceremony info is here:

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I think the confusion might be because the meaning of retire / retirement is not always permanent. The colors can be retired (withdrawn or dismissed) at the end of a ceremony. A person can retire (go to bed) at the end of an evening. Or a person can retire at the end of a career (more permanent meaning of the word).


Previous Related Discussion and lists of References

US government drill manuals

  • HEADQUARTERS, DEPARTMENT OF THE ARMY, Drills and Ceremonies, FM 3-21.5 (FM 22-5), Change 1, April 2006, 298 pages
  • US Coast Guard - Commandant Instruction Manual. CIM_5060_11B, MARINE CORPS DRILL AND CEREMONIES MANUAL, p. 7-72 - “To retire the colors from separated flagpoles …”;

p. 21-5
Commander commands “RETIRE THE COLORS.” The color guard executes a countermarch and halts facing the line of troops.

a. The commander of troops then presents the command.
b. The color guard executes a right turn and marches from the field …

Historical Notes

Revolutionary War 1779

  • Regulations for the Order and Discipline of the Troops of the United States by Friedrich Wilhelm von Steuben (Wikisource)


The Assembly is the signal to repair to the colors


  • War Department FM 22-5, August 4, 1941. BASIC FIELD MANUAL, INFANTRY DRILL REGULATIONS 98-102 p. 48.

When it is desired to dismiss the color guard at the conclusion of a drill or ceremony in which the colors have participated, …

Bill_W, Chief Petty Officer, U.S. Navy (Retired)

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