Military medals challenge coins and paraphernalia

How to Show off Your Military Medals Like a Pro

Military medals, challenge coins and other paraphernalia common in the military deserve proper display. Don’t let the award you earned serving your country collect dust in a box stored in your attic. Your military achievements and memorabilia such as ribbons, tabs and medals of valor can be proudly displayed in your home or office.

See how the pros display the designations, distinctions, and other hard-earned awards given to them while serving their country.


Before you display or wear your U.S. military medals, make sure you are authorized to do so. It is a federal crime to wear a medal or display a medal as your own if you did not earn it.

President George W. Bush signed the first Stolen Valor Act into law in 2005. The law specifically addressed the unauthorized wear, sale or manufacture of DOD medals or other items awarded by the military. A federal misdemeanor, falsely representing yourself as receiving a military decoration or medal, could result in imprisonment for up to a year.

The Supreme Court struck the law down as unconstitutional in 2012. Congress immediately amended the law to address the unconstitutionality. A new law was passed and signed in 2013 that has withstood all legal challenges.

Civilian Wear

Veterans and military retirees can wear any medals or ribbons earned on civilian attire. However, worn properly, the medal or ribbon should follow specific protocols.

You can wear your U.S. military medal or ribbon on your chest, lapel or collar. Always wear the ribbon or medal in the correct order, as specified for example, for the Army in AR 670-1.

How to Find Out What You Are Authorized

Sometimes a medal or ribbon can be awarded or authorized after a campaign is over or after a person has left military service.

There are several ways to find out what you may or may not be authorized to wear. The Department of Defense operates a website that lists medal recipients and is updated continuously. The American War Library,, has a free form you can fill out and submit on behalf of yourself or someone else to determine your eligibility.

Order of Precedence

order of precedence ribbon

Medals and ribbons have a specific order called the order of precedence. This dictates which award has a higher rank and is mounted first, second, third, etc. on your ribbon or medal rack. That is why the Armed Forces Expeditionary Service award is present before the Global War on Terrorism Service award.

When creating your display cases and shadow boxes it is customary to follow the order of precedence when displaying your awards, but you can also take some creative liberties and display them in any order you want.

Categories of Military Medals

There are two categories of military medals: decoration medals and service medals.

A decoration medal is normally awarded for valor or meritorious service, and it is usually made in the shape of a cross, star, or hexagon.

The service medals are awarded for specific campaigns or expeditions. These medals can be awarded multiple times and for any other denoted awards require attachments, which come in the form or bronze or silver stars, arrowheads, numerals, and hourglasses.

Types of Cases to Display Your Awards

Many veterans choose shadow box displays for their prized medals and ribbons earned in service to their country.

Some medals and awards may be of historic value as well as personally treasured. A high-quality shadow box or display case can protect your ribbons and medals from accidental harm.

In a display case, the highest honor should be at the top left of the case. You can find the order of precedence for each military branch of service on several websites.

Displaying More than Medals and Ribbons

various veterans medals

Most veterans have collected more than just medals and ribbons during the time on active or reserve duty. They may have special challenge coins or other items to include in the display.

Adding challenge coins to the display case adds a personal touch, creating a unique case that for sure no one else has but you!

Along with mounting challenge coins, display a picture, unit patches or morale patches, badges and insignia, and dog tags.


Make sure you clean your medals and other items before placing them in the case. If you are going to hang the box on a vertical service, professionals recommend court mounting. This method ties or sews the medals to the case bottom to restrict swaying.

The shadow boxes from Medals of America come with a mounting kit that includes everything you need for mounting your awards in the case, and hanging the case on the wall. It includes easy to use hook and loop strips that easily adhere to the felt backing of the case.

Your medals, ribbons, patches, and whatever else you include in your case will not be damaged by glue or puncture holes from pins, and you can easily move things around to make any last minute changes.

Other Ways to Share Your Achievements

Car decals, t-shirts, baseball hats, and other apparel are all excellent ways to share your military achievements and showcase your career. Whether you served during a specific conflict or earned special recognition, you can easily and inexpensively show your patriotism.

Final Thoughts

Invest some money and time into the arrangements and venue where you display your hard-earned medals and ribbons. What they stand for reflects favorably on your selfless giving of yourself in service to your country.

Thank you for your service.