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What is the army call To the Colors?

What is the army call To the Colors?

The army call “To the Colors” refers to a bugle call used by the United States Army to signal the lowering and raising of the American flag. It is also known as “Retreat” or “First Call”. The call signals the end of the duty day and serves as a notice for all soldiers to stand at attention and pay their respects as the flag is lowered in the evening and raised in the morning.

History of To the Colors

The origin of “To the Colors” can be traced back to the 17th century when bugle calls were first used for signaling in military camps. However, the current version of the call was composed in the early 20th century. In 1874, the call “Retreat” was sounded at sunset to notify soldiers to cease activity. In 1898, the call “First Call” signaled the start of the duty day. Eventually the two calls merged into one unified bugle call known as “To the Colors”.

The call was officially recognized in “Army Regulations” in 1912. It was played at both reveille in the morning and retreat in the evening when the flag was raised and lowered. Over the decades, it has remained an essential bugle call and daily military tradition. The melody and lyrics evoke a sense of duty, respect, and pride.


Although “To the Colors” is primarily an instrumental bugle call, it has official lyrics that are sometimes sung on formal occasions. The lyrics are as follows:

First Verse:
Day is done, gone the sun
From the hills, from the lake, from the sky
All is well, safely rest

God is nigh.

Second Verse:

Fading light dims the sight
And a star gems the sky, gleaming bright
From afar, drawing near
Falls the night.

Third Verse:
Thanks and praise for our days

Neath the sun, neath the stars, neath the sky
As we go, this we know
God is nigh.

Playing of To the Colors

The playing of “To the Colors” is precisely timed to the lowering and raising of the flag. When the flag is being lowered:

  • The bugle call signals the start of the ceremony as the honor guard prepares to lower the flag
  • As the flag is slowly lowered, the bugler plays the call
  • Once the flag is folded and retrieved, the bugler plays “Carry On” to signify the end of the ceremony

The steps are reversed in the morning with the playing of “To the Colors” accompanying the raising of the flag at reveille.

Soldiers salute and pay respects to the flag during the playing of the call. If indoors, soldiers and military personnel stand at attention facing the direction of the flag or music if the flag is not visible.


“To the Colors” holds deep meaning and significance for members of the military. Some key reasons it remains an essential tradition include:

  • Signals and honors the end of the duty day
  • Serves as an opportunity to reflect and pay respect to the flag and what it represents
  • Motivates loyalty and pride for country and service
  • Demonstrates camaraderie and unity through a shared daily experience
  • Provides a regular reminder of commitment to duties, fellow soldiers, and the nation

The melody and lyrics evoke powerful emotions of gratitude, solemnity, and honor for flag and country.

Tradition and Customs

A series of military traditions and customs accompany the sounding of “To the Colors”:

  • The bugler typically stands about 20-30 paces from the base of the flagpole facing the flag
  • Spectators gathering for the ceremony stand, face the flag, and place their right hand over their heart
  • Soldiers in uniform give the appropriate salute (hand salute for those without headgear, salute with headgear for those wearing it)
  • During the actual lowering and raising, all movement and talking ceases
  • Veterans may choose to simply stand at attention rather than salute
  • The ceremonial removing and folding of the flag occurs before the dismissal bugle call sounds

These solemn ceremonies often occur on military bases and installations, at camps, schools, summer camps, and other locations where flags are raised and lowered daily.

Other Military Bugle Calls

“To the Colors” is one of many bugle calls used in a signaling tradition dating back centuries. Other important bugle calls include:


Signals the start of the duty day. Soldiers rise, dress, and eat breakfast to this sunrise call.

Mess Call

Announces meal times. Soldiers assemble for the dining hall.

Sick Call

Signals time for daily sick call and care of soldiers on health profile.

Drill Call

Assembles soldiers for drill instruction and marching formations.


Played nightly to signal “lights out” and end of the day. Also performed solemnly at military funerals.


Signals soldiers to assemble for formations. The call differs from “Drill Call” in that it summons troops together more urgently.


Initiates a return to the central assembly point when a unit is dispersed for safety purposes.

Playing of To the Colors at Military Funerals

A bugler often performs “To the Colors” at military funeral ceremonies to honor the deceased veteran’s service. This can occur:

  • After the playing of “Taps”
  • Following the rifle salute
  • During the folding of the flag before presenting to the family

The melody pays tribute to the veteran’s commitment to duty and country.


“To the Colors” is a time-honored bugle call that signals lowering and raising of the flag while demonstrating respect for the nation’s symbol. Its melodic, lyrical, and ceremonial role make it one of the most important daily military traditions. The call motivates loyalty, duty, and national pride through its continued observance.