All You Need to Know To Build a Military Shadow Box

All You Need to Know To Build a Military Shadow Box

A military shadow box is so much more than a wood-framed, glass-cased box with colorful medals, ribbons, badges, and insignia inside. It’s a personal history of a service member who decided to raise their right hand and serve the United States of America against all enemies — foreign and domestic. It’s their story of service and accomplishment, fittingly displayed, for those who see it gaze upon the shadow box with admiration, respect and gratitude.

American military service men and women have been recognized for their service and accomplishments with medals and ribbons, to include specific commendation, achievement and service awards like the Bronze Star Medal, the U.S. Navy and Marine Corps Commendation Medal, the U.S. Army Achievement Medal, the National Defense Service Medal, and the Sea Service Deployment Ribbon and Army Service Ribbon. Furthermore, military service members have been awarded specific campaign medals for their service in the Vietnam War and the Global War on Terrorism. It’s all a part of their personal history, a record reflecting their time in the military.

Additionally, service members are recognized by their insignia, rank, and the units they have served with over a career. These are both personal and professional symbols of military service and mean a lot to the service member they represent as they reflect upon their service. Likewise, family members can take great pride in knowing their loved one was a Captain in the Army, a Master Gunnery Sergeant in the Marine Corps, a Petty Officer 1st Class in the Navy or Coast Guard or a Technical Sergeant in the Air Force. This is the service person’s identity. And sure, service members and veterans alike enjoy telling stories about days gone by–like when they were a member of the 82nd Airborne Division jumping out of aircraft into the big blue sky or the fond memories serving in the 1st Marine Division or how they earned their Jump Wings or flew with the 8th U.S. Air Force.

Preserving these personal awards and service accomplishments is important. They deserve a proper location in one’s office or home in a military shadow box display for all to see the dedicated service and personal commitment this person had by standing in the ranks of America’s Armed Forces.

Build Your Military Shadow Box


Vietnam shadow box

medals and ribbons shadow box

A military shadow box is a great way to preserve and display your personal or your loved one’s military history as well as display memories and accomplishments. for generations to come. It’s a great way to reflect on your service to the nation and the great times with your friends, past and present, who took an oath to serve a cause greater than them. Each military shadow box is unique and is special in design and its content.

Divider Steps 1

Getting Started on Your Military Shadow Box

To start building your military shadow box, first you will need a copy of your DD-214, Certificate of Release or Discharge from Active Duty or your military service records and certificates from your “I Love Me” book. It’s important to get it right, so if you think you or your special loved one is missing some records, or you just want to verify their military record, the National Archives Veterans’ Service Records is a great resource and easy to use.


If you still have your original medals, ribbons, rank insignia, service stripes, name plates/tags and unit patches stored away in your old footlocker, pull them out and get started by inventorying your items. Do you have everything you need? If not, Medals of America can help you with replacement medals, ribbons, badges, insignia, and patches for those items that are either unserviceable or missing from the footlocker. All of their medals, ribbons, insignia, and patches are approved by the Institute of Heraldry, officially licensed, and never surplus or used.

Original Medals Quote

When designing and building a military shadow box for an active duty member of the Armed Forces as a gift, check with their corresponding personnel/human resource center or simply ask them for a copy of their own biography or official records to verify. Although asking them upfront might tip your hand, units generally provide a proper farewell to service members so it may not come as a surprise when someone asks them about their awards and badges.

Lastly, photos are a great addition to any military shadow box, either added into the design or as complementary items framed nicely next to the shadow box. It adds a personal touch, especially when the photos are of the individual the shadow box is presented to. The photo can simply be them in uniform, one with their military buddies or one with their family who has sacrificed a great deal to support their loved one.

Divider Steps 2

STEP 2: Designing a Military Shadow Box Display Case

As you lay out your items, you’ll quickly realize you will have to prioritize what to display in the shadow box. This way, you can determine the appropriate size you will need to order to make a career’s worth of service items fit inside a wood-framed, glass display case. Medals of America has five specific shadow boxes to assist you, ranging in size from “The Big Traditional” (16”x20”), “The Classic” (12”x16”), “The Second” (8”x10”) and “The Gift” (5”x7”). Additionally, we offer a variety of background colors (black, blue, red and green), reflective of each U.S. Armed Forces’ service-specific, traditional colors. For example, black for the Navy, blue for the Air Force, red for the Marine Corps and green to represent the Army. You may consider ordering multiple shadow boxes if you have a lot of items to display or have served in more than one military branch of service over a career.

Furthermore, you will want to ensure you have your well-earned medals and ribbons in the correct order of precedence. We have a Medal Rack Builder and Ribbon Rack Builder available for use to get it right before you order your medals and ribbons for your personal or loved ones’ military shadow box. These tools help you visualize how the medals and ribbons will be displayed with their corresponding accoutrements. If you don’t have the time or resources to mount your medals and ribbons by hand, this is a great tool to get a perfect rack done!

Lastly, to further personalize your military shadow box, you’ll want to consider identification plates for each medal, ribbon, insignia, or patches. For example, Medals of America has brass plates for the Marine Corps Good Conduct Medal, the Combat Action Ribbon and the Vietnam Service Medal. If you want to personalize each medal, feel free to create a custom plate to add locations and dates to each medal.



U.S. Marines Shadow Box Display Case

A common theme in shadow boxes is to have a large brass plate in the shadow box that can hold up to 15 lines of text! Now is the time to summarize their service, especially if your service member is multi-service. Typically, the name plates go as follows: First, middle, last name on one line, followed on the next line by the years they were active in the military, then on the next line where they served or the conflict they served in. A lot of family members love to put a quote, special nicknames the service member held, or an inside joke. A name plate provides that special touch to any military shadow box as it’s the only time during your military career that is about you and your service to the nation.

Start Designing Your Military Shadow Box

Divider Steps 3

Tools Required to Build a Military Shadow Box

This step applies to those brave enough to build a military shadow box and tackle the task of placing all the medals, ribbons, badges, insignia and other items onto a display board for placement.

If you enjoy a challenge and getting personally involved, then a Do-It-Yourself video is a good place to start. Then, after you have the needed frame and backing, you will need, at a minimum, the following to mount your items:

  • Hook/Loop Velcro. Use it to mount items onto the display board.
  • Scissors, Xacto Knife or Razor Blade. To cut the Velcro to a specific size for mounting medals, ribbons, badges, plates, etc.
  • Tape Measure and Ruler. To measure the alignment of items on the display board and ensure they are level and placed on the board evenly.
  • Gloves and Cleaning Cloth. To keep the items clean, free of dirt and to clean as you go.
  • Small Crafting Hammer. To use a small force to secure/flatten and to use picture hooks/wire and hang shadow box on wall.
  • Picture Hooks, Nails and Hanging Wire. To secure to shadow box frame for hanging on a wall.
  • Glass Cleaner and Cloth. To clean the glass display on both sides as the project concludes.
  • Furniture Cleaner and Cloth. To clean the wood framing after the project is complete.

Divider Steps 4

If No Time for STEP 3: Ask Medals of America

If you’re not comfortable with constructing a shadow box, or just value your time, Medals of America can turn your design into a reality. We have over 40 years of experience, coupled with customer satisfaction, to tap into with a few clicks of the mouse. Our Military Awards Specialist can personally assist you in designing the perfect military shadow box for yourself or your loved one, or as a farewell gift for that deserving service member. You’ll love it and we love helping you make it professional and beautiful, worthy of the service to our nation it will reflect. It’s how we got started at Medals of America.


We are happy to assist you, whether you’re a DIY-er or you want Medals of America to assemble a military shadow box for you or your loved one. The EZ Mount system comes with the built shadow box to help you mount your medals, ribbons, badges, insignia and other personal accoutrements in your shadow box for display in your office or at home. This system will not harm your well-earned items and will, in fact, preserve them for future generations to come. We are honored to be of service to our military service members and veterans and take great pride in serving those who have served our nation in the U.S. Armed Forces.

So to those who have served, past and present, we SALUTE you and appreciate you defending freedom at home and around the world!