Displaying Your Military Medals

Military medals are never awarded lightly. They are hard won. As such, a veteran’s medals and ribbons deserve to be displayed with honor and pride.

In such arrangements, you may wish to display other military memorabilia, as well. Such items may include unit and branch insignia patches and pins, dog tags, military photos, flat folded hats, the sleeve of your dress uniform with rating badges and strips (or the entire jacket), collar pins of rank, flags and even dress swords.

If there is more than one veteran in your family, you may consider making a combined arrangement or one that presents the medals in a side-by-side display. A combined arrangement may work well for husband and wife veterans, while a side-by-side may better display father and son veterans of different war eras.


Whether you are the veteran who earned the medals or a relative who inherited them, preserving such keepsakes is easy. Cleaning is your first step. It ensures the items look their best and helps the display remain fresh for longevity. The following applies:

  • For anything metal, use an appropriate cleaner. Metals (such as brass and silver) may need periodic cleaning as time passes. An occasional close review of the metals will indicate when cleaning is needed.
  • For fabrics, use a spot remover or dry cleaning solution. A dry cleaner is the best solution for fabrics and definitely should be used for uniforms and hats. However, they do not always guarantee damage-free work on such items. If this is the case, ask them to recommend a cleaner.

Test all cleaners on a tiny spot on the back of the items. Allow them to set for a week before cleaning the front areas, giving the solution time to interact with the materials. You want to ensure no damage is done to the pieces.


If you have only a few items or just medals/ribbons to display, then it pays to do the job yourself. Plan to spend some time looking at the different display options. Surf the Internet for “military medal display” to see what is available. Many web sites offer a variety of display cases and shadow boxes. The web site www.texastrophies.com offers some truly unique military shadow display boxes. While checking the offerings of the different sites, you will see many attractive layouts used in the samples. Print any that may work for you.

The Display. Displays come in different sizes, woods, styles and prices. Some hang on the wall, and others sit on a flat surface, such as a shelf, bookcase or table. You may use one display or several arranged together. You may even wish to combine a wall display with a table shadow box.

The shadow box offers a hinged, glass/acrylic door on the front of the display for easy access, while the display case is similar to a picture frame with more depth. Whatever case you select, ensure it:

  • Is tightly enclosed to protect your medals from dust and humidity,
  • Has a Velcro-friendly backboard, and
  • Has a fabric color that compliments your mementos.

The Arrangement. Play with different layouts before attaching the pieces! Arrange the items on the backboard, leaving at least an inch on all edges. A medal with a neck ribbon should be draped over the top edge of the backboard. Do not overcrowd the arrangement. Leaving space around the edges and within the display highlights each piece more effectively.

When you have created a layout you like, close the door on a shadow box or place the frame over the top for a display case. Look at it from a short distance. Ensure that all pieces can be seen.

Attaching Your Mementos. Once you have decided upon an arrangement, use Velcro to attach the items to the fabric. Velcro comes in strips, squares and dots that can be stuck to the back of your pieces. To ensure no Velcro shows from the front, purchase colors that match your medals – just in case. Velcro may be found at any fabric shop and some craft stores.

You may need to attach swords or other heavy items using wire that matches the color of the metal. Though some shadow boxes are made specifically for swords, they don’t display medals within the same box. A store, such as Home Depot, provides a good variety of wires.

Never use staples or glue. They can ruin your pieces and do not provide a good presentation.

Attaching ribbons may pose a specific problem, if you wish to wear them for special functions (for example, American Legend, VFW or parades). Velcro ruins the ribbons for future wearing. Instead, use the same back plates you use to attach them to your dress uniforms and “stick pin” them into the display (settle upon a layout first, so you don’t ruin the backboard with the pins).

Use a Frame Shop

If you have several different types of memorabilia or are not handy with craft projects, then put your medals and memorabilia in the hands of a professional – use a frame shop. Trained and experienced framers can show you many different display options and layouts. Shop around for a good framer. Ask friends and colleagues for referrals.

Make an appointment with the framer and ensure they understand that you would like at least 30 minutes of their “undivided” attention. Make a list of any ideas or questions you may have (I guarantee you will forget something, if you don’t). Clean all pieces before the appointment, so the framer selects the best color options.

At your meeting, lay out all of the items. Discuss any ideas you may have. Then, allow the framer to show you different ideas, colors and display options, including arranging the items to see what you do and don’t like.

If using several display boxes, ask the framer to show you some different arrangements. Make notes and diagrams of the option you select, so that you will display them correctly when they are finished.

However you decide to display your military medals isn’t as important as deciding to do so. Service to your country is a time of pride and honor. Don’t just place these mementos in a box on the top shelf of a closet. Display them with pride.

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