5 Common Items Found in a Military Shadow Box

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Military members, veterans, and their families honor their service by displaying important items in a shadow box.  Many things are placed in it but there are also some universal items displayed.

Those who sail the high seas have quite a few superstitions.  The military shadow box was borne from one.  Sailors believed they would experience bad luck in life if their shadow touched the ground before they did.  They made sure their shadow didn’t touch land before them.

Sailors placed all their belongings in a box.  The box replaced the shadow.  When sailors came ashore with their box, they knew they would be spared ill luck since their “shadow” was in the box.  Their feet touched the ground without a shadow.
A tradition formed.

Today, shadow boxes are presented to military members upon retirement.  This is to honor their service and to wish them the best of luck when they step into the civilian world.  Veterans who did not retire make their own and display certain items.

5 Items Displayed in a shadow box

  • American Flag and Branch of Service Flag
  • Service Medals
  • Unit Patches
  • Last Rank Insignia
  • Sentimental Items


The US flag is always displayed in a case when not being flown.  There are military guidelines on how and where flags are displayed and stored.  The US Flag is often displayed with the service member’s branch of service.  The US flag is what the military defends and is branch of service flags represent who they served with and the honor of having served in that branch.

Service Medals

There are primarily six types of service medals.

  • Personal Decorations
  • Unit Awards
  • Service Awards
  • Campaign and Service Medals
  • Service and Training Awards
  • Marksmanship Awards

Service medals are displayed in the same order as listed above with some variations among branches of service.  The army issues marksmanship badges instead of medals and unit awards are worn separately from all other awards.  Service medals represent the military member’s personal and military accomplishments.  It is impressive to view these medals in the shadow box.  It is a visual representation to families of the service member’s journey.

Unit Patches and Rank Insignia

Unit patches represent the headquarters and unit they last served under.  It may include the unit insignia that combat veterans served with.  Rank insignia is the last rank the military member held before leaving the service.

Sentimental Items

Items with special meaning to the service member are limitless.  It could be a challenge coin, a photo of the people they served with, a matchbook, a stone, or anything that meant something significant to that soldier. It is an item that reminds them of something significant during their time in service.

7.3% of the US population are active or former service members.  One can understand how special these shadow boxes are to the service member and their family.  It’s a symbol of the sacrifices the few have made for the many.  It is the legacy of service to their country.