Military plaques and awards can be huge sources of pride for family members of veterans, and great sentimental decoration for patriots across the country. Authentic military awards are the gold standard, since these items can be directly tied to a person's victory in battle or other significant accomplishment. However, obtaining real awards from the government can be tricky, so here's what you need to know about trying to order authentic military awards.
It Depends on the Branch
First and foremost, different branches of the military have different rules and nuances regarding the sale and distribution of military awards. For example, the Army, Navy, Marine Corps and Air Force all allow you to order medals and awards online, whereas the Coast Guard only accepts mail-in orders. There are other differences among these six branches, which will become apparent in the following sections, and these differences mean that if you're ordering medals for your entire family, it could take longer than you may have thought.
It Depends on Who You Are
For all branches except for the Coast Guard and Marines, the next of kin can order military medals and awards at no cost, whereas for the Coast Guard and Marines, only the veteran him or herself can order medals. Rather, for branches that don't allow next of kin to order medals, next of kin can order an Official Military Personnel File for a meager fee and then order the award itself from a private company. These companies are often very skilled and can reproduce the actual award so that it looks identical in a case.
Another big factor in ordering military awards is the dates for which the awards are being ordered. This is true because of the network of regulations regarding archived records. There is a 62 year period during which the records for military personnel are not available to the public, but after this period, the records can be requested thanks to the Freedom of Information Act, thus allowing you to order awards based on these records. This means that records that date back to 1954 or earlier are available to the public to find out which awards were given by the military to service members. Another important set of dates is 1912 to 1964. Information from the Army on events that took place during this time might be tough to track down due to a 1973 fire at the National Records Center that destroyed up to 18 million of these records.
If you're looking to order awards that were issued between 1912 and 1964 or anytime after 1954, then you might be better off ordering them from a commercial vendor and going off of recollection or family history. This is especially true if you don't have a familial connection to the person whose medals you are trying to order, which would completely restrict your ability to access records, and therefore order awards, for any time after 1954.