Serving in the U.S. military is not about the individual. Our men and women in uniform perform their duty for many reasons. Some are patriotic and serve because of love of country. Others feel that their duty is to care for the person standing to the left and right of them in the ranks. And some feel an obligation, a debt, to give back to the country. Whatever the reason for their service, one thing is certain, those who serve do so unselfishly, putting the needs of the nation, the service branch and their units before their own.
Once a military member hangs up his or her boots, many veterans capture and preserve their military service by creating a shadow box or having one ordered. Shadow boxes capture a unique period in a person’s life and unlike the selfless military duty that the contents represent, shadow boxes should be customized and personal, regardless of whether you put them together yourself, or allow a professional to assemble it for you.
There is no incorrect way to display your service pride in a shadow box. What goes into a shadow box is completely up to the individual whose service is reflected in the box. While military medals are for most veterans the primary items that are encased in a shadow box, it isn't uncommon to see ka-bars displayed alongside of military medals in shadow boxes, dog leashes and collars sharing a shadow box with military medals and even an old c-rations can that had a piece of shrapnel in it, proudly displayed alongside of military medals, patches, pins and stripes. Each shadow box is unique to the individual it represents because each person’s military experience is so unique to them.
For many, shadow boxes include a veteran’s rank, earned badges, professional designations and qualifications, and of course military medals, awards and decorations. Some believe that because the military is a place of order and discipline, that a shadow box has to be structured accordingly. Not true. If an individual wants his shadow box to only include his Purple Heart, dog tags and his Zippo lighter, then his or her shadow box should only include those items. If the veteran does not want the rest of their military medals included in the box, they’ve earned the right to determine what is best reflective of their military service.
However, if a veteran decides to display medals and ribbon racks, then it is advisable to place the medals and ribbons in order of precedence according to the veteran’s military branch. This not only shows respect for the services and the awards and decorations, but also to the millions of individuals who might have earned the military medals.
Ranks, if included in the shadow box, should probably go in order of precedence as well just to make it easier to explain to individuals who are unfamiliar with military service.
The bottom line is that there is no limit to what can be included in a shadow box. Flags and photographs can also be included along with other mementos from a veteran’s military service, as well as military medals. What goes into a military shadow box and how it is arranged is completely up to the veteran.