Shadow Box

Military Shadow Boxes – The History and Tradition Behind It

When military personnel retire from their services, they are often honored with a custom-made display case that can preserve the vital elements and memories from their duty life and these may include anything ranging from medals, national flags or marks of honor (ribbons, pins, rank coins, badges). These boxes are known as military shadow boxes. They have become a common gift for the military and army men these days however there is a rich history and interesting tradition behind it.

Today it has become a custom in almost all branches of the United States military and other armed services and civilian agencies around the world to give shadow boxes to those who retire from the services. However, the origin comes from the ancient past – the Rime of the Ancient Mariner. The Greek mythology has it that monstrous Kraken used to attack the ships at sea, and shadows were used to ward off the evil.

Roots in Greek Mythology

Centuries ago when sailors who had served at the ship for years retired from their services, their exit was considered as a bad omen on the ship and to the remaining comrades who would still be a part of the crew. To ward off ill luck and any unfortunate accidents, the sailors would whistle in the dark or throw salt over their shoulders.

The ‘shadow boxes’ emerged from the ritual wherein the departing sailor was given a box made from the woods used to make ships and he would keep his belongings and possessions in the box. These items were considered as the shadow of the departing sailor.

The sailors usually had very few things collected from several ports-of-call that he would carry in a small box which represented him, and it was said that the sailor was carrying his shadow with him. This was a simple superstition that led to the origin of shadow boxes. In those days it was a simple wooden box containing sailor’s belongings.

The Boxes of the Modern Era

With time, the concept has evolved and what was considered as means to ward off evil has developed into a retirement ritual. In military today they use the much sophisticated shadow boxes that are filled with rank pins, coins, badges, flags, certificates and other stuff. What was a simple box in the past containing junk items of the sailor are now expensive custom-made boxes that are used to display the accomplishments of the soldiers.

Over the years, these boxes have turned into more complex and ornate gift items with beautiful designs. The displays are made of glass or other expensive materials and the keepsakes and mementos are precious. Although there are no such laid down rules regarding how these boxes should be, if a national flag is included then it should always be folded. Also, the medals and other honors received by the military personnel should be grouped by the chronological order or type.

Today the military plaques, shields and shadow boxes are used to honor the military men and women for their accomplishments. The boxes are the perfect retirement gifts as they can be used to display various keepsakes, mementoes and photographs from the service days.