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Vietnam Shadow Box Ideas to Honor Veterans


Vietnam War era veterans are quickly becoming the oldest living veterans in American society as World War II and Korean War veterans pass into history. As the United States has come to terms with the way in which it treated returning Vietnam veterans, many of these veterans are finally able to show the military pride they have felt all along.

If you have a Vietnam veteran in your family or circle of friends, a Vietnam shadow box might make a great holiday or birthday gift. A Vietnam shadow box might help a Vietnam veteran show off their service pride and also help them understand that many others, not just them, are proud of their service as well.

Where to buy a Vietnam shadow box?

You can buy an empty shadow box that is likely made in China from a local craft store. They aren’t that expensive, but is that really the message that you want to send when you are gifting a Vietnam shadow box? It is important to understand the sacrifice that Vietnam veterans made and the things they endured during their service. They deserve a high-quality Vietnam shadow box that is reflective of their military service during the Vietnam War.

Online retailers like USAMM not only provide empty shadow boxes that you can customize yourself, but you can order all of the veteran’s badges, ribbons and medals and have them placed in the Vietnam shadow box that is customized and built specifically for your Vietnam veteran.

What is placed in a Vietnam shadow box?

A Vietnam shadow box should contain items that were earned during a Vietnam veteran’s military service. Things that are normally included are the person’s medals, ribbons, rank, qualification and special badges as well as their last unit’s emblems.

It is important to include awards and decorations specific to the veteran’s service, like the Vietnam Service Medal, Republic of Vietnam Campaign Medal, National Defense Medal, and other awards known to be awarded for service during the Vietnam War.

Can other things be placed in a Vietnam shadow box?

A Vietnam shadow box can include anything that is deemed relevant and memorable for the Vietnam veteran. Many Vietnam veterans have lighters, can openers, dog tags, knives, and other memorabilia that are important to them from their service during the war. It is important to ensure that these are included in the Vietnam shadow box.

Remember, a shadow box is a tangible snap shot of the things that these men and women carried with them as they served. It is a way to preserve those items, but at the same time display them to be shared with others.

Veteran involvement in a Vietnam shadow box

This is a tough one. A shadow box is a very, very personal thing filled with mementos from a person’s military service. Military service during a conflict is an emotionally charged period for a veteran.

While the element of surprise is priceless when gifting a Vietnam shadow box, it is more important to get it right. Many Vietnam veterans have service records that are incomplete. During the 1970s, there was a massive fire in a federal building where records were kept and thousands if not millions of records were destroyed. In addition, given the highly decentralized and often unorganized management of the Vietnam War, many veteran records might not include all of a veteran’s awards. So if you were contemplating using some old military documents, like a DD Form 214, those are a great starting point, but they might not paint a complete picture.

For example, a veteran might have gotten discharged in 1969, but then been presented his Purple Heart or some other award years later. And odds are that those awards that were presented years later might be very important to the Vietnam veteran.

We recommend getting the veteran involved in the assembly of the Vietnam shadow box. It is better to be safe, than sorry and this is far too important a purchase just to wing it. It is important to get it right. Involving the veteran can ensure you get all the details right.

A Vietnam shadow box for a deceased veteran

If you are assembling a Vietnam shadow box for a deceased veteran your best starting point is acquiring the veteran's DD Form 214. If you are an immediate family member of the veteran this shouldn’t be too complicated to do, but it might take several weeks, if not months, to get the records center to supply you the information that is needed.

In most cases, as previously stated, a 214 is a great starting point and will include a majority of the awards presented to a service member during their active duty tours, but be ready and aware that what is on the 214, might not be all inclusive. There might be other awards that the veteran earned that might need to be included in the Vietnam shadow box.

If you run into obstacles, consider enlisting the help of your elected congressional official. They can often be instrumental in breaking bureaucratic jams when dealing with anything military. Also, approach veteran service organizations if you need help and are unfamiliar with how to get veteran records. Often many of these community-based organizations will help the families of veterans.

Remember, a Vietnam shadow box is a unique item full of memories for the veteran. Treat it with respect and the veteran will cherish it for years to come.

Comments on this post ( 2 )

  • Apr 01, 2024

    Thank you for making this available. It will be a comfortable reminder of my comrades and the past 55-years for our service in the 4th Infantry Division in the Central Highlands of Vietnam back in 1967-68.
    “Steadfast and Loyal”

    — Robert Betts

  • Apr 01, 2024

    Regarding the DD-214, you are absolutely right. My Bronze Star, with “V” device was awarded after I had separated and returned to school. You might even emphasize your comments by saying that the document is “often” incomplete.

    — Jim Frost

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