Getting Started With Your Medals & Ribbons

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It may have been years since you were in the service, maybe it has been a year, or you haven’t served, and you want to commemorate your veteran’s service. Medals of America has been helping veterans and their families create, mount, and display shadow boxes for over 40 years. This page will help guide you to creating a shadow box starting from what you need to how to order one.

Time and time again our customers have told us how special their shadow box is to them and their families. They proudly hang above the mantle in the living room, sit on a bookshelf in the study, and are beloved by friends and family. Shadow boxes proudly display the rich military history, bravery, patriotism, and courage it takes to defend our nation’s freedom. Your family’s military awards are an important part of American history and it is imperative to display them with care, quality, and pride.

With years of combined Army, Navy, Marine, Air Force, and Coast Guard experience and over 40 years in the shadow box and insignia business we have the tools and knowledge to create a shadow box for you or a loved one and also give you instructions to create your own. 

What should go in a shadow box?

When putting together a shadow box we like to adhere to some basic “ingredients” for every box. Medals, ribbons, badges, rank, and patches are often included in a shadow box to create a well-rounded representation of your veteran’s military career. It is also great to include pictures, dog tags, and mementos to create the personal touch for a shadow box. It makes your shadow box look great, but it also preserves your memories in a dust free environment to keep your mementos pristine for the generations to come.

Medals and ribbons are a great way to showcase a veteran’s military service because each award represents a specific event, action, conflict, and service. Traditionally, we mount loose, full size medals with an identification plate underneath to allow everyone to know what each medal is. We also place mounted ribbons as well to show off ribbon-only awards and to showcase what the awards would have looked like on a uniform.

There are three basic ways to display awards are: ribbon bars, miniature medals and full size medals. Award displays are always enhanced by the use of patches, skill badges, uniform insignia, and engraved brass nameplates.

Military medals come in two types - Decorations and Service Medals. Decorations are individual awards for valor or meritorious service. They almost always come in a distinctive shape, such as a star, cross or hexagon. Service medals are circular which distinguish them from decorations. They are awarded for participation or service in a particular campaign, expedition, occupation, or emergency duty.

Campaigns, battles, assault landings such as Normandy, and additional awards are indicated by small metal devices attached to the ribbon of the medal. Attachments come in stars, oak leaf clusters, numerals, etc. and are very important for correctly showing the holder's service.

If you have your original medals ribbons, and badges, that’s great! It is hard for many people to keep track of their medals between deployments, moving houses, and just the nature of keeping up with things. If you are missing your original medals, like a many veterans, we can replace your originals with medals and awards that are approved by the Institute of Heraldry.

We have over 2,000 military ribbons, medals, badges, insignia and patches to put your case together the way you want it. Everything that you receive in your case will be new and meet or exceed the United States Institute of Heraldry's approved standards.

Help! How do I get my or family member’s service records? 

If you don’t already have your DD214’s or separation papers, you can request these documents form the National Archives. The National Archives have the tools on their homepage to do all sorts of digging. From there you can fill out different forms to receive information regarding service records. Click here to get started.

Why buy a military shadow box for you or someone else?

To be an inspiration to generations to come!

American families have always been proud of their Veterans. Military records, recollections of battles, and personal letters to home have helped many families retrace lost family trees. It can also instill pride to find out that you have had a relative in an important turning point in history.

Besides thinking about the generations to come, the immediate need for a military shadowbox for yourself, a family member or a friend is the foundation of our mission statement here at Medals of America. All Veterans should take pride in their service to our great country and be recognized for it, in person.

Your military shadowbox will serve as a visual as you recount personal stories and pass on your legacy to family and friends, allowing them to share in your experience and emotion. Only then will your service be complete. Only you can tell your military story, so don’t let the opportunity to share your piece of history pass you by.

As Veterans, we pursue a shadow box for a number of reasons and sometimes it’s just to get all our stuff in one nicely packed box, because a shadow box just says it all. Often the Veteran that doesn’t think their service was that big a deal or perhaps like far too many we know, the culture of the time was not supportive. It is, then, the family that will want to honor the Veteran. Sometimes a family member or friend will build a display because of the overwhelming love and respect that they have for a Veteran.

Some tips for crafty budgeters

Trust us when we say that there is no need to overthink this. Your shadowbox will look perfect with just the basic elements. Foremost, your shadowbox price is dependent on two things; medals and the size of the shadow box needed to contain those medals. You must have enough set aside for those because those are the most important and most expensive part of the shadow box. You can get a great case with full size medals without breaking your budget.

Let’s talk importance. At Medals of America, we pride ourselves in maintaining the Valor Act, which requires documentation of valor awards. You and your family should be honored if you have one medal or twenty medals. The point is, get the medals on your paperwork; they are all nicely minted, colorful and true to your time in the service and if you have any gaps in representation, take a look into our commemorative medals to fill what is important to you.

In the case of my father, what was important to him, was his shoulder patch, insignia and badges since he was given no other ribbons or awards during his service in the National Guard. To finish your case, choose the most important patches, rank, unit awards and pictures. A picture can be a nice top centerpiece and a great space filler for your case. Then pick the last rank you were and any other small insignia that is important to place in the case. If you are still in budget but want a little more to tell your story, take a look at adding challenge coins and other memorabilia.

The last and final thing to add is the engraved brass plate at the bottom/center of your case to tell everyone who you are. A small plate can look just as nice as a big one, but again it is up to the importance you place on your words versus accessories.

Now, if you are even a slightly crafty person with a ruler and scissors, you can mount this shadow box at home for free with your family! You can save up to $45 just by using the EZ mount system that each shadowbox comes with. You get Velcro, instructions, wall mounts, the special colored fabric backing board and our lifetime guarantee.

There is no damage to your award and by cutting small pieces of Velcro for your medals and ribbons, you can always move your awards around without the worry of gluing stuff in place. One of our customers shadowboxes even survived a hurricane and the ocean waves with all of his awards still stuck in place! Mounting your own shadowbox can be a rewarding and fun experience.

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