10 Special Items to Put in a Military Keepsake Box


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When someone chooses to serve his or her country, this is an outstanding gift to the nation. This is a career that should be celebrated for generations to come, and many families hold military traditions close. A keepsake or memory box is one way to hold the special treasures and honors one collected during their time in the service. 

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Dating back to ancient naval tradition, military keepsake boxes are a common way of honoring veterans even today. These boxes are designed to be filled with things that honor the veteran, his or her service, and special mementos that relate to their time in the military.

If you’re looking to create a military keepsake box for yourself or a loved one, you might wonder where to begin. We’ve compiled a list of 10 special items to put in a military keepsake box of your own. 

What’s a Military Keepsake Box?

A military keepsake box is a box, usually wooden, that’s filled with military mementos. These are commonly medals, special honors, badges, and so on. However, you can also include personal items from time spent abroad with the military, including letters and other keepsakes. 

These military keepsake boxes make great memorial gifts, especially if a veteran fell in the line of service. Having a physical reminder of their contribution to their country is a powerful statement, and this is something families hold onto for generations. 

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Where did military keepsake boxes come from?

Though they’re widely used today, many don’t realize that military keepsake boxes have traveled a long way to get to where they are nowadays. They actually date back to ancient naval traditions. 

The original story comes from ancient sailor superstition, believe it or not. When a sailor retires and is on their final trip back home, it’s considered bad luck if the sailor’s shadow touches the land before them. To prevent this from happening, the shipmates would build a sturdy box to display mementos of the sailor’s accomplishments. This made a symbolic “shadow” of the sailor to be carried until they’re safely ashore. 

Over time, shadow boxes became a common way for military servicemen and women to highlight their achievements once they retire from their service. They often use their military trunks to create a shadow box similar to the naval tradition in the past, but some families create their own. 

What to Put in a Military Keepsake Box

From military funeral honors to retirement gifts, it’s easy to see why military keepsake boxes are so popular for those who serve their country. This small, special honor highlights their biggest achievements. What should you put inside a keepsake box? Here are some ideas.

1. Insignia

First, it’s common to place a serviceman or woman’s insignia within their shadow box. The insignia is a sign of an individual’s rank within their line of service. It helps define their authority and responsibility. For those in higher ranks, this is a big achievement. 

2. Medals

Next, the military keepsake box has always been about safeguarding one’s medals. The medals, if being permanently attached within the box, should be aligned with the highest honor first and moving downward. 

3. Badges

Your keepsake box is also the ideal place to store and display badges. These can include the final badge received by the serviceman or woman, a medical field badge, a combat badge, and so on. These are representative of one’s service and accomplishments. 

4. Ribbons

Ribbons or rank pins and coins are also perfect for storing within a military keepsake box. These can be adhered to the box itself to form a display or just rested gently inside. Because these are small, they’re often the most challenging for families to hold on to. 

5. Flags

Of course, no military keepsake box would be complete without a flag. This can be a flag for one’s country, a specific branch of the military, or another meaningful representation. 

However, it’s important to note that if this is a burial flag, it should be folded in the standard triangle and displayed properly. There is a specific flag code to pay attention to.

6. Uniforms

Displaying or securing someone’s uniform within a keepsake box is a very special tribute. These uniforms are a part of one’s story, and they often tell a lot about someone’s time in the military. Preserving it for years to come creates a beautiful family heirloom.

7. Considerations

In the military, considerations include certificates, diplomas, letters of recommendation, and so on. These all create a visual of someone’s professional life and achievements, so they’re something worth holding on to.

8. Overseas postcards

Many military men and women serve in the military overseas. And they often collect postcards as a memento that doesn’t take up too much space. These postcards form a makeshift map of places a person’s service took them during their journey. 

9. Photographs

Of course, photographs are a great keepsake for any military box. Whether you include a single photograph or several, photographs are a way to bring memories to life. 

You can include any photos, but it’s common to choose some that reflect different milestones, like the first day of service, retirement, best friends, award presentations, and so on. 

10. Letters home

Last but not least, including letters that were written home in one’s military keepsake box is a touching, emotional tribute. This allows the soldier to capture in his or her words what the experience was like. Not only will these be meaningful to look back on, but they’re part of someone’s legacy. 

Where to Buy a Military Keepsake Box

There are so many places to buy a military keepsake box if you’d prefer not to make one yourself. These are very customizable and personalizable so you can create exactly the right box for your or your loved one. 


One of the best places to find anything unique is Etsy. Etsy is a digital creator marketplace where people sell unique handcrafted products. 

There is a large assortment of military keepsake boxes, each with hundreds or even thousands of reviews, on Etsy. You can personalize your box with insignia, a branch of the military, the person’s name, and more. 

2. Amazon

The largest online retailer is also a great place to find military keepsake boxes. These finds on Amazon are easily personalized, as well, and you can find different shapes and sizes depending on your needs. With free shipping and boxes starting at $24.99, this is an affordable choice. 

3. Relic Wood

Located in Taylorsville, North Carolina, Relic Wood is one of the best places online to shop for custom military keepsake gifts. Each piece is created at their local woodworking shop and built by hand. Veteran-owned and operated, they take great pride in American craftsmanship. 

4. The Whisperwood Collection

Another 100% made-in-the-USA provider is The Whisperwood Collection. A strong supporter of local organizations and the military, these finely crafted military keepsake boxes are built to last. With endless options to choose from, this is a great pick. 

5. One Passion Place

This keepsake supplier has every type of memento imaginable. With a wide selection of military keepsakes, particularly keepsake boxes, there are so many options to choose from at One Passion Place. With a lower cost than other providers, it’s easy to see why this is a popular shop. 

6. Medals of America

As the name implies, Medals of America is the trusted provider of handmade military keepsake boxes. It was started in 1976 by army veteran, Colonel Frank Foster, and his wife. After hunting for his father’s WWII medals, Foster built a gorgeous shadow box to honor his family’s service. 

Today, the Foster family continues this tradition to help other families do the same. What started as a room in his basement has grown into an 80,000-square-foot facility in South Carolina.  

Showcase Outstanding Service

All servicemen and women deserve to have their service honored and appreciated. A military keepsake box might sound simple, but it’s a reflection of one’s lasting legacy within their country. The time spent serving is often difficult to put into words, so these keepsake boxes help capture that experience for the entire family. 

From retirement gifts to memorial keepsakes, this is something families will hold on to. Not only can future generations look back on this service with pride, but their stories can continue being told. 


  1. “History of Shadow Boxes.” Goat Locker: Naval Resources. GoatLocker.org

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