National Defense Service Medal

This medal is awarded to service members who served honorably

 The National Defense Service Medal was established by President Dwight D. Eisenhower on April 22, 1953. At the time of its creation, the medal was intended for eligible members of the Armed Forces who serviced between June 27, 1950 and July 27, 1954.

Eligibility was subsequently expanded to include service members who have served honorably during a designated period of national emergency or war, or to other active military members at the discretion of the Secretary of Defense.

The National Defense Service Medal is the oldest service medal in use by the United States Armed Forces.

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Size and Shape of National Service Medal

Official DOD Graphic

The medal is a bronze medallion 1 1/4 inches in diameter. Shown on the front of the medal beneath the words “National Defense” is an eagle with inverted wings perched on a sword and palm branch.

Displayed on the center of the reverse side is a shield taken from the Coat of Arms of the United States. There is an open wreath made up of oak leaves on the right side of the coat of arms and laurel leaves on the left side.

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Ribbon of the National Defense Service Medal

Official DOD Graphic

The National Defense Service medal’s ribbon is 1 3/8 inches wide and has eleven stripes made up of four different colors: scarlet, white, blue and yellow. 

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Criteria for the National Defense Service Medal

The National Defense Service Medal is awarded for honorable active service as a member of the Armed Forces for any period between:

  • June 27, 1950, to July 27, 1954 (for service during the Korean War).
  • January 1, 1961, to August 14, 1974 (for service during the Vietnam War).
  • August 2, 1990, to November 30, 1995 (for service during the Gulf War).
  • September 11, 2001, to present (for service during the War on Terrorism).
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Reserve Members and the National Defense Service Medal

Reserve members who are ordered to federal active duty, regardless of how long, may be awarded the National Defense Service Medal. Any member of the Guard or Reserves who becomes qualified for the Armed Forces Expeditionary Medal, Vietnam Service Medal or the Southwest Asia Service Medal after 31 December 1960, will also be qualified for the National Defense Service Medal.

The following conditions are not considered performing active service towards award of the National Defense Service Medal:

  • Guard and Reserve forces personnel on short tours of duty to fulfill training obligations under an inactive duty training program.
  • Any person on active duty for the sole purpose of undergoing a physical examination.
  • Any person on temporary active duty to serve on boards, courts, commissions and like organizations or on active duty for purposes other than extended active duty.
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Symbolism of the National Defense Service Medal

The eagle shown on the medal is the American bald eagle and stands for the United States. The sword symbolizes armed strength, and the palm signifies victory. The shield is taken from the coat of arms of the United States and stands for the authority under which the medal is given and earned. The oak embodies strength and courage while the laurel signifies honor and achievement.