GRAFENWOEHR, Germany -- Every evening at 5 p.m. the sound of the bugle playing the "Retreat" song, followed by "To the Colors" rings out across Army installations. The community grows silent and turns toward the flagpole to watch the American flag slowly lower, placing a proud hand over their heart or rendering a salute.
This ceremony is one of the oldest traditions in the U.S. Army, which dates back to the Revolutionary War. At that time, however, drums sounded it - the normal musical instrument found in infantry units of that period. The bugle was used during this time solely as a signal instrument.
By the end of the Civil War, the infantry, cavalry and artillery were sounding bugle calls during "Retreat," where it remains in tradition today.
The ceremony serves two purposes -- to signal the end of the duty day and pay respect to the nation's flag.
Once the bugle sounds, all personnel driving on the installation should stop. Service members and government civilian personnel are encouraged to turn off their vehicles, and, if safe to do so, exit to render the appropriate honors.
Individuals outside of buildings will also render the appropriate honors to the flag during the ceremony.
Disabled persons and small children are not required to exit their vehicles. If in a group in a military vehicle or bus, only the senior occupant exits the vehicle to honor the flag.
With the first note of "Retreat," come to attention and face the flag (or the direction the music is coming from if the flag is not visible).
At the last note of this call a cannon is fired and "To the Colors" begins.
Service members in uniform render the hand salute at the first note of this song.
Normally, the flag is faced when saluting unless duty requires you to face in another direction. At the conclusion of the music regular duties are resumed.
When in a formation or a group, the senior service member present will call the group to "attention" and then "parade, rest" at the first note of "Retreat."
At the first note of "To the Colors" the senior service member will call the group to "attention" and "present, arms." At the conclusion the senior service member will give the command "order, arms."
Those in civilian clothing will remove their headgear and place their right hand over their heart at the first note of "To the Colors."
Service members not in uniform and retired service members may render the hand salute if they choose.
This ceremony not only honors the American flag and the principles for which it stands, but allows community members to take pride in and experience the enduring patriotic traditions of the U.S. Army.