The National Defense Service 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.
The National Defense Service medal’s ribbon is 1 3/8 inches wide and has eleven stripes. The first stripe is 7/16 inch of Scarlet followed by 1/32 inch of White, 1/32 inch of Old Glory Blue, 1/32 inch of White, 1/32 inch of Scarlet and a middle stripe of 1/4 inch of Golden Yellow. The next stripe is 1/32 inch of Scarlet followed by 1/32 inch of White, 1/32 inch of Old Glory Blue, 1/32 inch of White, and lastly 7/16 inch of Scarlet.
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 a date to be announced (for service during the War on Terrorism).
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.
The National Defense Service Medal (NDSM) was established by Executive Order 10448 signed by President Dwight D. Eisenhower on April 22, 1953. At the time of its creation, the medal was intended only for eligible members of the Armed Forces who serviced between June 27, 1950 and July 27, 1954.
Those dates were further extended with Executive Order 11265, which amended the original order to extend the termination date and certified the Secretary of Defense to institute periods of eligibility subsequent to December 31, 1960.
Eligibility for award, beginning with the period after December 31, 1960, was then established by DOD Directive 1348.7 and terminated effective 15 August 1974. The NDSM was again authorized by memorandum, dated February 20, 1991, from Secretary of Defense Cheney for active service on or after August 2, 1990 with no termination date established. The termination date was later established as November 30, 1995.
The Heraldic Division, Quartermaster General's Office, was asked to provide proposed designs for the NDSM. A committee appointed by DOD, which included representatives of all services, met and selected the design of Mr. T. H. Jones for final approval.
The National Defense Service Medal is worn after the Army of Occupation (or Naval Occupation Service) Medal and before the Korean 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.