Traditions like making and giving military shadow boxes steep us in the richness of personal histories spent in public service and sometimes with sacrifice. The very origin of military shadow boxes was brewed in superstition about protecting one’s shadow from being touched by another person before the sailor set foot on land following his final voyage home after a long career at sea. From a practice dating back for centuries, a ship’s crewmembers would fashion a custom-made shadow box from the finest materials available and place into it items that told the story of a sailor’s travels and adventures. Even today, shadow boxes are still popular because they hold important memorabilia from the service member’s military career.
1. Flag or Uniform
For the background, consider placing a flag (country, military branch, state, etc.) or using part of the military uniform (jacket, shirt, etc.). If you just wanted a pattern, you could take a trip to your local fabric store to find patriotic fabric of a flag or specific to the military branch. If the service member has died, you could display the flag used at the funeral.
If your service member has received any awards, display them in a shadow box is a lovely idea. Many people do not like their awards on display, but these awards should be displayed proudly. When the awards are displayed in a shadow box, you can still easily view them (instead of having them stuffed away in a box), but they are not displayed in an ostentatious way.
Every service member has insignia specific to them, and this should definitely be displayed in a shadow box. Insignia is used in a number of different ways including badges and ribbons based on rank, unit, formations, and branches. If your service member is still wearing their insignia pieces, consider buying replica insignia so you can still display it while they still use the authentic piece.
4. Personal Effects
Especially if the service member has served in overseas tours, you will want to display several personal pieces in the shadow box. Perhaps they have a favorite picture or piece of currency that they would like to include. You could also include geographical elements too such as sand or rocks. If they received letters, you could display one to remind them that so many thought of them during their service.
The beauty of a shadow box is that you can never mess it up. There is no set design or rules when it comes to what you choose to display or how you decide to arrange it. Choose items that have specific meaning to your service member and help tell their story. Be sure to look at others to gather ideas for inspiration and delivery. Your service member will treasure the shadow box because it will help tell their personal story and journey, and you will be able to show your appreciation for the brave sacrifice they made.