Commemorative Medals — 225 Years of American Tradition

Commemorative Medals — 225 Years of American Tradition

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The United States Government, State Governments, Veterans Organizations, private mints and individuals have a long tradition of striking commemorative medals to recognize and honor specific military victories, historical events and military service to our great Republic. Until the 20th Century the United States did not issue military service medals recognizing service by veterans in the different wars, battles, campaigns or other significant military events.

The Commemorative Medals Tradition

The tradition of honoring U.S. military heroes began when the Continental Congress awarded gold and silver medals to our triumphant commanders of The Revolutionary War. While these were struck as table display medals, General Gates the victor of Saratoga, wasted no time hanging his from a neck ribbon and wearing it for his official portrait. General Washington was awarded the first commemorative medal for driving the British from Boston and the first commemorative to a naval hero was awarded to Captain John Paul Jones. These Congressionally authorized medals were the forerunners of modern combat decorations. Some medals commemorate events such as the Mexican War and the Civil War, with reverse designs depicting famous battle scenes.

During the Mexican War certain states such as South Carolina issued medals to veterans of the state regiment which fought in the war. Other times veterans formed societies and issued medals commemorating their service. Some of the more famous examples are the Grand Army of the Republic reunion medals and the Aztec Club medal struck by veterans of the Mexican War. In some cases commanders during the Civil War issued privately commissioned commemorative medals such as the Kearney Cross.

The Minting of Commemorative Medals

The U.S. Mint regularly produces commemorative medals typically to celebrate and honor American people, places, events, including medals honoring military heroes, veterans and the Armed Services. For example The Vietnam Veterans National Medal commemorates the courage and dedication of the men and women who served in that conflict. The Missing in Action medal is a 15/16 inch miniature replica of the 3-inch medal authorized for presentation to the next-of-kin of American military and civilian personnel missing or other unaccounted for in Southeast Asia. The 200th anniversaries of the U.S. Army, Navy, Marine Corps and Coast Guard were also celebrated with the striking of national medals and the Persian Gulf National Medal honored Persian Gulf War veterans. Only bronze medals are available for sale to the public.

While the federal government issues commemorative medals from the U.S. mint, state and county governments who were particularly active after World War I used private mints and contractors to issue hundreds of different commemorative medals honoring World War veterans and providing a visible symbol of gratitude to their returning veterans. All of these medals were especially meaningful to both returning veterans and their families. Veteran’s associations such as the American Legion, Veterans of Foreign Wars and even the Daughters of the Confederacy issued commemorative medals. For the past two hundred years these groups coupled with private mints have issued medals honoring historical military events, victories, deeds and service that honor American veterans.

Commemorative medals reflect typical American ingenuity and spirit, where local government, veterans associations and private leadership step forward to facilitate honoring service and deeds the federal government fails to recognize. In recent years the 75th Anniversary of World War I and the 50th Anniversary celebrations of both World War II and the Korea War were the occasions for well-deserved commemorative medals to honor the veterans of these conflicts. The most recent example is the Cold War Victory Commemorative Medal struck to fill the void created when Congress authorized a Cold War Victory Recognition certificate but never funded a medal.

Although unofficial in nature and usually struck by private mints or associations, commemorative medals provide a very tangible memento to honor all veterans and families for their service and sacrifice.

Medals of America has designed and manufactured several Commemorative Military Medals. We carry a large selection of Commemorative Certificates, Challenge Coins and Display Cases to accompany these medals.  Be sure to visit our site today!

There are 4 comments for this article
  1. Mark T. at 8:52 am
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    So what are the rules for wearing these Commemoratives by Veterans and Retirees? Are they authorized for wear along with officially awarded decorations while in uniform or on civilian clothing at formal civilian or Veteran's events?

  2. Chuck Cantley at 6:40 pm
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    They are not authorized for wear on active duty military uniforms. They are authorized for wear by veterans on civilian clothing or nonactive military uniforms at special occasions(Veteran's Day, Memorial Day..etc.)

    • Steve Corbin at 5:30 pm
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      Is they so sort of regulation or something that states that commemorative medals are ok to wear on non-active military uniforms?

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