Preserving our ancestor’s personal belongings is just as important as keeping vital documents to pass down through the generations. If one or more of your ancestors were active in the military, you might be wondering how to preserve their precious medals and uniforms. If you are an active duty member yourself, you may be looking to educate yourself on military object preservation in order to hand down your medals to your children or grandchildren.
But preserving military textiles and medals can be a bit tricky, especially if they are antique. Therefore, we have decided to compile a small guide to help you protect your Bronze Stars and other military medals.
What Is a Bronze Star?
“Bronze Star” can mean one of two things when discussing medals and ribbons. First, there is the Bronze Star medal. Bronze Star medals were first awarded shortly before the end of World War II in 1944. In order of precedence, it is one step above the Purple Heart medal and is given to United States military personnel who reached a heroic achievement or performed a meritorious service during their time in a combat zone. Next, there is are bronze star attachments; these tiny attachments, often referred to as devices, are mounted on the ribbon or medal to denote that the wearer was awarded that ribbon or medal multiple times.
Bronze star attachments can develop a green layer of buildup due to the chemical reaction between the metal, air, and water. So, it is crucial to not only keep them clean and free from this residue but to develop a preventative cleaning habit so your attachments and medals can last for years to come.
Preserving Military Medals
There are specific things you must consider when protecting military medals from the elements and attempting to keep them in good condition.
Here are some general preservation tips:
Always wear gloves
Our hands are covered in oils that cause oxidation on the metal’s surface. Over time, this can cause damage and deterioration to your medal. Wear gloves when handling your medals to ensure these oils are not transferred from skin to metal.
Clean before storing
Before you take the step to store your medals, clean them with a soft dry brush. After you clean the medals, make sure to assess their current appearance and, if there are any problems or imperfections, opt to repair them immediately.
If they are stored touching each other, the medals could rust more quickly and damage the uniform beyond repair. Wool uniforms contain sulfur, which could damage certain medals. If you are storing vintage medals, wrap them in acid-free tissue paper before placing them in your shadow box. Whether your military medals are antique or not, show them off in shadow box display case.
Depending on the specific kind of medal you are dealing with, there may be additional care steps to take to ensure they last.
Preserving Your Attachments
Luckily, bronze is a common metal material, so experts have already been able to identify ways to preserve bronze objects and artworks. Bronze is relatively low-maintenance, so you do not need to worry about dedicating a lot of time toward its conservation.
Consider coating the bronze.
Although bronze is generally considered a strong metal, it can still be victim to erosion and other damages over time. You can secure the longevity of your Bronze Star with wax, sealants or other corrosion inhibitors. Paint should not be used as a coating, as it can cause damage and is difficult to remove. If you choose to coat your Bronze Star with wax, the wax coating will have to be removed periodically and re-applied to ensure maximum protection.
Re-drape when necessary.
Bronze Star medals are usually attached to a ribbon, called the drapery. If this ribbon is torn, withered or discolored or the clasp is broken or malformed, send your medal(s) to us. We can re-drape them and give them a breath of new life!
Think about the placement of your shadow box.
Whether your Bronze Star is an antique or new, the colors will begin to yellow and the medal will suffer in constant sunlight. Keep your medals in a cool, dry and dark space to ensure their longevity.
If you don’t clean your bronze, especially before coating, you can trap pollutants and damaging particles on the surface. Over time, these particles can eat away at the bronze and create irreplaceable damage. Use a dry cloth to wipe the surface of any dirt or grime. Also, remember to clean your shadow box regularly.
Perform regular check-ups.
Check your medals and other military artifacts at least one time a year to find any discolorations, stains or breakage. Finding imperfections early on is necessary so you can fix the problem before it develops. If you do spot any flaws, feel free to reach out to the Medals of America team. We are highly trained in medal preservation and can help you find a solution.
Military medals are designed to last forever; they just need a little preservation to keep them looking new! If you should have any questions regarding your Bronze Star and how we can help you preserve or restore your service medal, give us a call at 1-800-308-0849. It is our honor to serve you!