The National Defense Service Medal was established by Executive Order 10448 signed by President Dwight D. Eisenhower on April 22, 1953, as amended. The National Defense Service Medal is a Department of Defense service medal.

  • 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 a date to be announced (for service during the War on Terrorism).

The National Defense Service Medal is awarded for honorable active service as a member of the Armed Forces during the Korean War, Vietnam War, the war against Iraq in the Persian Gulf, and for service during the current War on Terrorism. In addition, all members of the National Guard and Reserve who were part of the Selected Reserve in good standing between August 2, 1990, to November 30, 1995, are eligible for the National Defense Service Medal.

In the case of Navy personnel, Midshipment attending the Naval Academy during the qualifying periods are eligible for this award, and Naval Reserve Officer Training Corps (NROTC) Midshipmen ae only eligible if they participated in a summer cruise that was in an area which qualified for a campaign medal.


The National Defense Service Medal is worn after the Army of Occupation (or Naval Occupation Service) Medal and before the Korean Service Medal.


Subsequent awards of the National Defense Service Medal are denoted by bronze stars.


The National Defense Service Medal was designed by Thomas Hudson Jones (1892-1969).


The identity of the first recipient of the National Defense Service Medal is not known.



In the center of a bronze medallion one and a quarter inches in diameter, an eagle with displayed, inverted wings shown standing on a sword and palm branch, all of which is beneath the words NATIONAL DEFENSE in raised letters following the contour of the upper edge of the medal.

The eagle is the American bald eagle and represents the United States. It is perched in an attitude of defense, alluding to the purpose of the medal. The sword represents armed strength, to be used in defense of the United States, and the palm represents victory.


In the center of a bronze medallion one and quarter inches in diameter, a shield paly of thirteen pieces above an open wreath consisting of oak on the right and laurel on the left. The shield is taken from the coat of arms of the United States and refers to the authority under which the medal is both given and earned. The oak represents strength and courage while the laurel represents honor and achievement.

The bald eagle is the national symbol and thereby represents the American people. It is perched on a solid rock which represents the firmness of resolve and strength of America in prosecuting the war, as indicated by the dates.


The ribbon to the National Defense Service Medal consists of a red background bisected in the center by a stripe of gold which is edged with white, blue, white and red pinstripes.

The red stripes going from the edges inward represent the color of Mars, the Roman god of War, and are also symbolic of fortitude and courage. The central golden stripe flanked by pinstripes of blue, white and red are taken from the American Defense Service Medal, the precedent medal upon which the National Defense Service Medal is based. The gold represents the golden opportunity of the youth of America to serve the Nation, represented by the national colors as embodied by the blue, white and red pinstripes.

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