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How to display military medals

Tips by Donald K.. Burleson

April 2010

Many people will come across Grandpa’s war medals in a drawer and have no idea about the proper way to mount military medals and devices.  With proper mounting and framing, you can create an heirloom that will last for many successive generations, or at least until one of your descendants sells them for drug money. 

One nice feature of the military is that they have medals that show the history of the ancestor, colorful hieroglyphs that what show all "been there, done that" as well as awards for bravery and valor.

Military ribbons and medals tell a story.  For example, below you can see that this person was awarded the Distinguished Flying Cross twice as well as the Bronze Star and Air Medal.  They were once an enlisted man in the Army Air Corp. (as seen from the Army Good Conduct medal), and they were in the Philippines in 1942, fought in the Pacific theater in WWII, served in Occupied Japan, fought in the Korean war, and served in the Air Force reserve:

Military ribbons tell a story

Framing military medals

This is a step-by-step guide for mounting and displaying military medals.  To frame military medals properly you need a few important prerequisites for displaying military medals and awards:

  • Get the original military records:  You can file a freedom of Information Act (FOIA) request to St. Louis to get the accurate military service records.  The DD-214 is almost always an accurate record of the actual rank and medals won, but there are rare vases as noted in the book “Stolen Valor”, where the DD-214 records are altered by dishonest servicemen.
  • Get the rank insignia:  Once you know the rank of your ancestor, you can purchase brand new rank and hat insignia from third party sources and eBay.

  • Get the complete set of medals:  If the DD214 military records indicate that the medals were not awarded, you can send St. Louis an affidavit that you are the heir to the military person and mail you a set of all of your ancestors service medals for free!

  • Get supplemental medals:  If your military ancestor has multiple ancestors, you can purchase additional copies of ribbons and "miniature medals" for mess dress uniforms from third parties.

  • Get unit patches: With a little research, you can get military unit patches from sources such as eBay.  Some military unit patches are quite attractive and creative:

  • Get foreign medals:  Many conflicts have medals awarded by foreign governments (Korea, United Nations, France, etc.) and you will need to purchase these from a third party.

  • Get the sequencing of awards:  Military awards and displayed in a specific order, with the highest medals to the top left.  One good way to see the order is to build a “ribbon rack” for your ancestor, using an online tool:

Framing military medals for display

Framing military medals is important, especially if you expect the awards to last for a few generations.  I like to get the porcelain photos available for tombstones where you can add a photograph of your military ancestor in an archival form that will last for centuries.

I recommend a hardwood shadowbox made from a dense hard wood such as walnut.  Also make sure to use a non-UV glass so that the colors do not fade over the centuries. 

I also recommend having the medals sewn to the background fabric to avoid movement and shifting over the years.

Below is a sample I did using original medals supplemented by a brand new ribbon rack and mess dress miniature medals:

Here is another example of framed military medals using the original full-sized medals:






Note: The opinions expressed on these pages are the sole opinion of Donald K. Burleson and do not reflect the opinions of Burleson Enterprises Inc. or any of its subsidiaries.

Suggestions?  We are always seeking new tips for the professional at leisure, and any suggestions would be most welcome.  If you find an error or have a suggestion for improving our content, we would appreciate your feedback. 

Copyright © 1996 -  2010 by Donald K Burleson. All rights reserved.