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Do You Know What the Oldest U.S. Service Medal Is?

Do You Know What the Oldest U.S. Service Medal Is?

National Defense Veterans Pocket Square Heroes


The National Defense Service Medal (NDSM) was established by President Eisenhower per Executive Order 10448, dated 22 April 1953. The medal was first intended to be a "blanket campaign medal" awarded to service members who served honorably.

However, this is not the case. The National Defense Service Medal is designated for a time period of which the Secretary of Defense had declared a “national emergency” during a time of war or conflict.

The National Defense Service Medal is authorized for the following time periods:

Korean War – June 27, 1950 – July 27, 1954

Vietnam war January 1, 1961 - August 14, 1974

Persian Gulf War - August 2, 1990 - November 30, 1995

Global War on Terror (Afghanistan & Iraq Campaigns) - September 11, 2001 - Present day

The National Defense Service Medal is the oldest “service medal” used by the United States Armed Forces.

The National Defense Service Medal designs were created by Mr. T. H. Jones and were submitted on 26 May 1953. The Department of Defense and representatives of all services met on 27 May 1953 and 3 June 1953 selecting the design for final approval.

The front of the medal shows the American bald eagle, our National emblem; sitting a top a combination of oak and palm leaves which signifies strength and preparedness. Above this is the inscription “National Defense”.

On the back of the medal is a shield from the Coat of Arms of the United States, and which symbolizes the defense of the United States. Half encircled with an open wreath, the right side in oak leaves and left side in laurel leaves.

National Defense Veteran Pocket Square Heroes

In our opinion, the National Defense Service Medal is the most recognizable service medal. The ribbon is colored red, white, blue and yellow. The NDSM ribbon can be seen on bumper stickers, t-shirts, coffee mugs, lapel pins and now pocket squares. See our version here.

The National Defense Service Medal is number eleven out of twenty-nine in the order of precedence and is related to the Global War on Terrorism Service Medal. The next lower medal is the Korean Service Medal. The next higher would be the Navy Occupation Service Medal, the Army Occupation Service Medal and the Medal for Humane Action.

If you have served during four authorized periods this is denoted by the addition of three bronze stars added to the ribbons face. The use of a silver star is authorized representing a sixth award and you are a badass.

It is said that in practice some military clerks will not add the National Defense Service Medal to the DD-214. If this is so, eligible veterans may apply to the military service departments to have it added to their records by filing a DD Form 215. Follow link here to file. 

Check out our National Defense Service & other Veteran Pocket Square Heroes™ designs, click the below image. 

Pocket Square Heroes Veteran Military



Veteran Gifts, About the Iraq Service Medal 



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  • Christopher Costa
Comments 2
  • MIke DUham
    MIke DUham

    Volume: 3
    Date: 2008-07-01
    Original Date: 2008-07-01
    Title: Section 578.26 – Vietnam Service Medal.
    Context: Title 32 – National Defense. Subtitle A – Department of Defense (Continued). CHAPTER V – DEPARTMENT OF THE ARMY. SUBCHAPTER F – PERSONNEL. PART 578 – DECORATIONS, MEDALS, RIBBONS, AND SIMILAR DEVICES. – General.
    § 578.26Vietnam Service Medal.
    (a) Criteria. The Vietnam Service Medal (VSM) was established by Executive Order 11231, July 8, 1965. It is awarded to all members of the Armed Forces of the United States serving in Vietnam and contiguous waters or airspace thereover, after July 3, 1965 through March 28, 1973. Members of the Armed Forces of the United States in Thailand, Laos, or Cambodia, or the airspace thereover, during the same period and serving in direct support of operations in Vietnam are also eligible for this award.
    (b) Qualifications: To qualify for award of the VSM an individual must meet one of the following qualifications:
    (1) Be attached to or regularly serve for 1 or more days with an organization participating in or directly supporting military operations.
    (2) Be attached to or regularly serve for 1 or more days abroad a Naval vessel directly supporting military operations.
    (3) Actually participate as a crewmember in one or more aerial flights into airspace above Vietnam and contiguous waters directly supporting military operations.
    (4) Serve on temporary duty for 30 consecutive days or 60 nonconsecutive days in Vietnam or contiguous areas, except that time limit may be waived for personnel participating in actual combat operations.
    © No person will be entitled to more than one award of the VSM.
    (d) Individuals qualified for the AFEM for reason of service in Vietnam between July 1, 1958 and July 3, 1965 (inclusive) shall remain qualified for that medal. Upon request (unit personnel officer) any such individual may be awarded the VSM instead of the AFEM. In such instances, the AFEM will be deleted from the list of authorized medals in personnel records. No person will be entitled to both awards for Vietnam service.
    (e) Service members who earned the AFEM for Operation FREQUENT WIND between April 29-30, 1975, may elect to receive the Vietnam Service Medal instead of the AFEM. No service member may be issued both medals for service in Vietnam.
    (f) Vietnam and contiguous waters, as used herein, is defined as an area which includes Vietnam and the water adjacent thereto within the following specified limits: From a point on the East Coast of Vietnam at the juncture of Vietnam with China southeastward to 21 degrees N. latitude, 108 degrees; 15′E. longitude; thence, southward to 18 degrees; N. latitude, 108 degrees; 15′ E. longitude; thence southeastward to 17 degrees 30′ N. latitude, 111 degrees E. longitude; thence southward to 11 degrees N. latitude; 111 degrees E. longitude; thence southwestward to 7 degrees N. latitude, 105 degrees E. longitude; thence westward to 7 degrees N. latitude, 103 degrees; E. longitude; thence northward to 9 degrees 30′ N. latitude, 103 degrees E. longitude, thence northeastward to 10 degrees 15′ N. latitude, 104 degrees 27′ E. longitude; thence northward to a point on the West Coast of Vietnam at the juncture of Vietnam with Cambodia.

    Those are the regulations. I served one year at U-Tapao A.B. In Thailand from 1969-1970 and I am a Vietnam veteran. just read the regulations.

  • Robert Nelson
    Robert Nelson

    For all of you asking about what medals/ribbons you are eligible for, refer to your DD214 form which you received upon discharge from military service. It lists your service dates and medals/ribbons you are eligible for. If you don’t have your DD214 or lost it, contact the Department of Veterans Affairs to find out how to get it.

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