Fact Check

Did Donald Trump Joke Around, Fail to Salute the Flag During a Military Ceremony?

A left-leaning web site correctly points out that the President joked around during the playing of "Retreat," but he did not violate protocol.

Published Oct. 13, 2017

Updated Oct. 13, 2017
 (Gage Skidmore / FLICKR)
Image courtesy of Gage Skidmore / FLICKR
President Trump violated protocol by not standing or saluting during the playing of "Retreat" during an interview with Sean Hannity.

In the midst of President Donald Trump's repeated criticism of the National Football League and football players and team owners for players kneeling in protest during the national anthem, a left-leaning web site accused Trump himself of disrespecting the flag and a solemn United States military tradition in October 2017.

The web site Shareblue reported:

Donald Trump sat and laughed with Fox News host Sean Hannity as the “Retreat” bugle call was played. Tradition dictates that members of the military and civilian leadership stand at attention to respect the U.S. flag during the solemn ceremony.

Trump’s act of disrespect occurred during an interview that happened in a hangar at the Air National Guard base in Pennsylvania. Trump referred to the bugle call as a “nice sound,” and asked Hannity if they were playing it “in honor of his ratings.”

The interview was conducted in a hangar at the Air National Guard base at Harrisburg International Airport in Pennsylvania with hundreds of people in attendance.

You can watch the interview on the Fox News web site here. The relevant section starts at 18.04. Here's an excerpted transcript:

Trump: ...we have a one percent GDP [growth].
[A bugler begins playing "Retreat" in the background.]
Trump: ...now I have to tell you, for the last quarter, you had three percent -
Hannity: Three-two -
Trump: And actually, three-two, they adjusted it upward. [Turns around] What a nice sound that is. Are they playing that for you or for me? [To the crowd] They're playing that in honor of his ratings, did you see how good is ratings? He's beating everybody!
[Some of the crowd laugh, cheer and applaud, some do not respond.]
Hannity: I think they'll be higher tonight, I'm just guessing.
[Bugler continues to play "Retreat."]
Trump: So the fact is that we really - we're really rocking.
[In the background, a large section of the crowd stands up.]
Trump: We have 3.2 [percent GDP growth] - now, this next quarter coming up, I believe would have even been better. You know, we haven't hit threes in a long time. So I guess it was ultimately determined it was 3.2 because they adjust upward, but we got hit with a few hurricanes as you probably heard. That'll have, I assume, an impact.
[Bugler continues to play "Retreat" in the background.]
Hannity: Barack Obama was the first president in history that never hit three percent GDP growth in a single year of his presidency, which I think speaks volumes.
Trump: Well you know, when I took over we were in the ones [around one percent GDP growth].
[Bugler stops playing "Retreat."]
Trump: And if we hit - think of this - if we hit just one point, if we go up from two to three, we pick up $2.5 trillion, 2.5 trillion -
Hannity: to the Treasury -
Trump: ...and we pick up millions of jobs. [Crowd applauds.] So it pays for the whole thing. So it really pays for it, so I think it'll be great.
[Segment ends, Hannity segways to commercial break.]

As Shareblue correctly points out, the playing of "Retreat" is a very long-standing United States military ceremony, which requires certain standards of decorum for those in attendance, both military and civilian.

However, Donald Trump does not appear to have violated protocol during the ceremony. We spoke to an Army National Guard spokesperson, who told us that there is "no expectation" relating to decorum for civilians or armed services members who are indoors during the Retreat ceremony, in any branch of the military. The President was in an airport hangar during the interview.

For those who are outdoors on a military installation during the ceremony, there are different rules, which can be found in Air Force Instruction 34-1201. Generally speaking, military service members and government officials are expected to "render appropriate honors" throughout the ceremony.

While Trump's joke that "Retreat" was being played in honor of Sean Hannity's television ratings could be considered disrespectful by some, he did not violate protocol by failing to stand or face the flag during the ceremony.

We asked the White House for comment and an explanation of Trump's comportment during the playing of "Retreat," but we did not receive a response by publication time.


Hayden, Molly.  "'Retreat' Ceremony More Than Music."   United States Army.  29 May 2013. 


Correction [13 October 2017]: A previous version of this article stated that the interview took place at an Army National Guard base.

Dan Mac Guill is a former writer for Snopes.