Visiting the Disney parks, Walt Disney World and Disneyland, is a quintessentially American experience. Even though the parks have expanded beyond the United States and attract guests from around the world, they are still, to quote a popular attraction, “a tribute to all nations, but mostly America.”
When Walt Disney first dreamed of Disneyland, he knew the spirit of America had to be represented. “Disneyland is dedicated to the ideals, the dreams, and the hard facts that have created America… with hope that it will be a source of joy and inspiration to the world.” Even after 59 years, this quote is still true.
In this spirit, Disneyland and Walt Disney World have a daily Flag Retreat Ceremony. It generally takes place at dusk (5pm in WDW) at the flag in the center of Town Square. Honorary veterans are chosen to participate from each day’s visiting guests. It is a very moving ceremony that has quite a large group of followers. The Disneyland Flag retreat even has its own Facebook page, which honors the ceremony, the veterans, and the resident guard in charge of lowering the flag.
My Flag Retreat Experience
This year I traveled to Walt Disney World fell over the Memorial Day holiday. My husband and I decorated our resort room’s window that morning with red, white, and blue and then headed over to Magic Kingdom dressed in our patriotic T-shirts. Our goal for the day was to thank as many veterans as we could identify.
As it was nearing 4pm, we made our way towards the train station to have a bird’s eye view of the Flag Retreat below in Town Square. Just before we reached the end of Main Street, a group was gathered watching the Dapper Dans. We stopped to listen a few minutes and noticed a veteran in a scooter near where we were standing. As the crowd started to break, we walked over and thanked him for his service and all that he had done for our country, and then proceeded to the train station for those coveted seats.
At this time of the day, as the sun beat down, all of the tables were empty, so we chose one right in the middle of the platform near the railing. The view looked straight down Main Street with Cinderella Castle in the background, which allowed for excellent photo opportunities. The closer it got to time for the Flag Retreat, the more the crowd gathered below.
Just before 5pm Cast Members approached and asked us to step to the side as the Main Street Philharmonic band came up the steps and began the ceremony by playing “America the Beautiful.” They then marched back down the steps, and we were able to take our spots again.
It was then that I noticed him, the last veteran we had thanked. He had taken his place, on shaky legs, near the flag detail. He was the special guest that we were there to honor this day, the veteran chosen to take part in the Flag Retreat. The ceremony proceeded, we recited the Pledge of Allegiance, we sang our national anthem with hands on hearts, we watched solemnly as the flag was being lowered, and then watched it precisely be folded into its triangle as the Dapper Dans led us all in singing “God Bless America.” Then they turned and handed the flag to “our veteran”.
I welled up. “Our” veteran, whom we had shared a brief moment with as he sat in his scooter, was now standing proudly, saluting, and holding that beautiful folded flag, as we honored the true meaning of Memorial Day: the veterans who sacrificed, the country they fought for, and all the possibilities of this nation.
I thought of my father, my grandfather, and all those that this day was meant for. We stood and watched then as the procession formed. The Walt Disney World guard detail and the honorary veteran of the day, along with Cast Members, other guests, and the Main Street Philharmonic band marched down Main Street towards the castle. I wondered if this was Walt’s intention 59 years ago when he started this touching ceremony at Disneyland. And to that I say, “Thank You ,Walt.”