Have you been to a parade or an official event recently? You might have seen a group of four soldiers escorting the flag of the United States of America. This escort of the flag you see at ceremonies is called a Color Guard.
Color Guards are charged with the responsibility of protecting the flag. They also perform in flag-raising and flag-lowering ceremonies. Four people are required to do this; two handle the flag while the other two guard it.
During the American War of Independence in the 1700's flags were referred to as colors. The colors were positioned in the middle with battle lines formed around them and they led the way on the battlefield. So, when the Color Guard advanced the line advanced, and vice-versa.
According to the National Sons of the American Revolution web site:
As the battle raged and casualties mounted, the line contracted toward the colors. Thusly, the outcome of any given battle was dependent on the handling of the regimental or brigade colors. The importance of the colors was so significant that before a battle a ceremony called "The trooping of the colors" was conducted. The regimental or brigade colors were paraded before the men so that it was certain each man would easily recognize "his" colors on the field of battle. Capturing the enemy's colors was a sure way to gain a victory. Without them a unit had nothing to rally around. To prevent this, a group of the most valiant men of the regiment were selected to protect the colors and color bearer. These men comprised the "Color's Guard," a posting of great honor and source of pride. It was a position of honor then and it is a position of honor now.
The National SAR Color Guard was organized in 1989, when then President General James R. Westlake called for the creation of such. Each year the National Color Guard continues to grow as State Societies and Chapters take up the call.
Color Guards are often invited to participate in parades, graduations, civil events and athletic ceremonies. Some units attend ceremonies where new citizens are granted American citizenship.
In Hawaii the Hawaii Sons of the American Revolution usually participates in Revolutionary War Uniforms in the Kailua Fourth of July Parade and in Veterans' Day Ceremonies, among others.
“As the last vibration of the midnight bell proclaimed the presence of the jubilant day, the sound of fife and drum broke on the silent air. Hail Columbia, coupled with the ever stirring strains of The Star Spangled Banner and Yankee Doodle, mingled with the firing of guns, the sharp, loud crack of powder-charged anvil, and the glad cheers of hilarious voices. On came the music and our hearts beat quicker as we beheld, borne in front of a band of Hawaiians, the glorious banner of the free. Fourth of July at Hanalei at Princeville Plantation, Kauai, on the 90th anniversary of American independence.”
Source: Pacific Commercial Advertiser, Saturday, July 14, 1866