As Lou has mentioned before on his podcasts, Walt Disney was a true American patriot. We see this the moment we walk into the Magic Kingdom and make our way up Main Street with its permanent snapshot in time of July 4 th celebratory theming. Walt himself once said: “If you could see close in my eyes, the American flag is waving in both of them, and up my spine is growing red, white and blue”.
Although too young to serve in World War I like his brother, Roy, Walt did join the American
Ambulance Corps at the age of 16 (after amending his birth year to meet the minimum age
requirement) and used his downtime whilst stationed in France to draw cartoons.
The legacy of Walt’s patriotism is still prevalent today, from the year-round free admission
for serving military personnel and veterans to the Disney family museum in San Francisco, to
the offers and discounts available to the Armed Forces at the Shades of Green Hotel, located
close to the Magic Kingdom at Walt Disney World.
Since the very first day the park opened in October 1971, the Flag Retreat Ceremony has
remained a daily tradition, continuing each evening despite the parks being forced to close
due to the global pandemic.
To take part in this moving and rousing experience, you cannot pre-book or request a spot.
Volunteers are randomly picked by cast members from the visitors arriving each morning.
You might therefore want to consider wearing a specific item of clothing to easily identify
yourself as service personnel if you want to increase your chances of being selected. To witness this special event as part of the audience, try and plan to be in the Town Square
around 5pm EST. The ceremony lasts for approximately 15 minutes and is an uplifting way
to end your day or perhaps begin your evening in the Magic Kingdom, with your family and
The ceremony begins with one or two young volunteers who lead the crowd in the Pledge of
Alliance, followed by the Philharmonic Band’s rendition of the National Anthem. As the flag
is lowered by a member of the Color Guard, the Dapper Dans sing ‘God Bless America’ and
the folded flag is then presented to the nominated Armed Forces Honoured Representative
for that day. The finale is a parade march by cast members, the Color Guard, the honoured
representative and their family up Main Street, where they are presented with the flag and
a certificate marking this wonderful occasion.
One proud participant in the Flag Retreat ceremony was Sgt. George Reynolds. George, who had served in the United States National Guard, had been visiting the parks with his family in December 2015 and whilst having photographs taken by a cast member at the start of their day, the group were asked if anyone in the party was, or had been, in the US military. George’s granddaughter Meg Przychodzien remembers the day with great fondness:
“He was so proud to serve our country and Disney treated him and us like absolute
royalty that day. Every cast member was so gracious and truly rolled out the red
carpet for us. Cast members are so incredible and my family will forever be grateful
to them for the hospitality and kindness they showed us!”
Sadly, George passed away in July 2020 but often mentioned to Meg how the experience
that day was one of the proudest moments of his life. This special Disney memory will
always be a cherished tribute to a much-loved husband, father and grandfather.
Perhaps the poignancy of the Flag Retreat Ceremony has been especially important during
this last year. It reminds guests that the purpose of this happy place is to bring people
together. What better way to do this than by uniting park guests in a ceremony that
recognizes and celebrates the pride they have for their homeland – a connection they share with their fellow citizens who travel to the parks from all over the United States of America.
Story photos courtesy of Meg Przychodzien (‘Magical Meg’ on YouTube). Feature photo courtesy of WDW Radio Team.
My name is Karen Burns and although I am based in the UK, I have been a lifelong Disney fan. For a little girl growing up in London, this magical place was a distant wonderland I could only ever dream of visiting. But it finally happened in 1990 when I was 16 years old. I have a nostalgic connection to Disney as it reminds me of many happy family moments watching the movies with my parents and two older brothers. I have since been back to Walt Disney World with my husband and then again with our two daughters, and I have also visited Disneyland Paris which has my favourite Cinderella castle. I love the medieval storybook aesthetic which is so stunning! Fast forward to the present day when I found Lou’s podcasts and then my excitement when he asked for contributors to the WDW Radio website. I love to write and wished I had had the confidence to make it my full-time career choice. My current midlife crisis has however seen me dabbling with freelancing and gradually growing a writing portfolio which has given me so much joy. To write about my happy place is truly a dream come true.