Wait a minute, the colors are always first in everything, everywhere, and every time! I know that because I heard it somewhere at some time in the past and it must be true. I just know it.
So, as you encounter some cognitive dissonance while reading that the color guard is not always first in line, rest assured you are not alone.
I don’t know exactly where this thinking comes from. No, the color guard or colors, is not first.
Main image at top: Notice the colors are behind a single platoon with nothing to their rear.
In a military parade (a pass-in-review) or funeral escort, the color guard is located in the center as shown below. Notice the commander of troops (CoT), guidon bearer, band master, and drum major are highlighted in different colors.
Above, you see line and column formation. The block formation to the color guard’s right (front) is either the band or the color company/platoon (Army, Marine Corps, Navy, & Coast Guard) or squadron/flight (Air and Space Forces) with another same-size formation to the color guard’s left (rear). These standards are detailed in the Army’s Training Circular 3-21.5, Marine Corp Order 5060.20, and AFPAM 34-1203 (formerly AFMAN 36-2203, AFM 50-14, & AFR 50-14).
If there is a call for a larger formation, then the band precedes the lead marching formation followed by the color guard and the trailing marching formation pictured below.
In the diagrams above, the formation labeled “Band” does not have to be a full size band, it can be any arrangement of a musical ensemble as shown in the following images.
Maybe you were thinking of the guidon bearer. In the diagrams I created above, I made the formation CoT a light blue and the guidon bearer green (well, those are the colors I think they are- partially color blind) with a little guidon flag next to him. The formation commander and the guidon bearer will always be out in front.
The same positioning setup is also for a street parade (think of the column formations above). Any group even remotely associated with the military follows these guidelines. Where does this come from, besides the current military drill and ceremonies manuals? Our history.
Note- for the image here, I happened to find it on Pinterest without any information associated with it. If you happen to know anything about the painting, please send me a message through the contact section of the home page and I’ll update this.
If you search the internet, you can find incredible stories of color bearers from many conflicts in the USA’s past, some of which were awarded the Medal of Honor. Those color bearers were integral parts of the formation. Without them, the men would scatter. As long as the the members of the formation could see their flag, which was located at the center, they knew to keep fighting and moving forward. It was and still is a high honor to carry our nation’s colors.
Did you catch that? The American flag bearer was at the center of the formation. Flags back then were sometimes massive banners as you can see from a couple of photos I found.
Nowhere in any text, military or civilian, is there any information that is contrary to what I have written above. Vexillologist DeVaughn Simper of Colonial Flag adds, “The only thing even remotely close is in the Flag Code where it states that you need only to stand for the 1st US flag that is in the parade.”
If anything, reenactors stive to be as accurate as possible.
In the image below you can see that flags were in several formations in this depiction of a brigade.