Guidelines for the Preservation of Military Items

A guide/reference on best practices regarding the personal preservation of personal military materials accumulated during time of service. It will also provide references on where to obtain certain military items that may have become damaged or lost. This is for librarians, veterans and family members

This document is a way to collaborate in creating a guide/reference on best practices regarding the personal preservation of personal military materials accumulated during time of service. It will also provide references on where to obtain certain military items that may have become damaged or lost. This is for librarians, veterans and family members. This is in hopes that Service Members (Active Duty and Retired) can recognize the positive impact their service to their country had and to see the significance in their accomplishments in order to regain or re-enforce the confidence and valor associated with being in the Military.

Definition of Artifacts:

  • Documents published or unpublished from the branches of the U.S. military
  • Discharge papers: These are the papers received upon discharge such as DD-214, VA documents, transition papers and medical documents.
  • Uniforms: Any clothing attire that is worn by the service member
  • Medals: They are made from gold, brass, silver, bronze and can be alloy or anodized and include cloth to show the military and personal accomplishments while in service.
  • Ribbons: Signifies personal and military accomplishments while in the service and are made with cloth with possible anodized stars.
  • Flags: United States flags are made from special cloth and are a symbol of country pride.
  • Items used in combat: weapons, helmets, ration tins, ammo crates, ammo boxes, etc.

Clothing or Other Textiles Preservation:

  • Items should be stored in climate-controlled spaces, not attics or basements.
  • Items should be stored or displayed away from bright light.
  • Use acid-free boxes to store items.
  • Store items in a flat position without folding.
  • If displaying a flag, use backing fabric to support it. Do not allow the flag to hang by its own weight for long periods of time.
  • Remove staples or pins from items.
  • When handling items, use cotton or nylon gloves.
  • When moving an item, place a stiff support under it.
  • When items are stored on hangars, place a pad on the hangar.
  • Large flat textiles can be rolled and stored in an acid-free tube.
  • Do not use plastic bags to store items.
  • Use unbleached muslin bags or dust covers to prevent damage from dust. Also, use the lids on acid-free boxes.
  • Do not wash or dry items.
  • Do not over pack
  • Keep away from intrusive light as the light can damage or deteriorate material, so no spotlight above shadow box.
  • 65-70 degrees is key temperature

Medals, Firearms and Ribbons Preservation:

As medals and ribbons can corrode via rust and tarnish, bends, or abrasions, it is important to follow the below recommendations:

  • Use nitrile, tight fitting gloves, or wash hands well and surface with mild soap, or use acid free tissue paper.
  • Proper padding if moving them
  • Do not stack or overlap medals/ribbons (can cause galvanic corrosion) and use acid-free boxes
  • For silver, store with a silver cloth or corrosion intercept bags to prevent tarnish (use cloth first) and change periodically every 5-7 years.
  • No harsh chemicals or tarnish removers
  • Keep from dust as it can accumulate humidity
  • For firearms they are prone to rust, so keep away from humidity and moisture, clean with a cloth and use a 3-in-One oil (lightly), also can use SC Johnson Paste Wax or Renaissance Wax with a LIGHT layer

Paper Preservation:

  • Documents should be stored in climate-controlled environments. Room temperatures should be below 72 degrees fahrenheit and humidity levels should be kept between 50 and 55%.
  • Documents should be stored without folds or creases.
  • Inspect documents periodically for insect damage.
  • Documents made of rag paper and documents made from pulp paper should be stored separately.
  • Documents should be stored away from light.
  • Documents should be displayed with acid-free backing boards or mats.
  • Documents should not be displayed on the outside of buildings.
  • Documents should be stored in acid-free boxes, folder, or chemically-inert sleeves.
  • Check with an archivist or conservator if documents need to be de-acidified.
  • Do not use staples, paper clips, or rubber bands when storing documents.
  • To prevent the risk of water damage, do not store boxes of documents on the floor.
  • Photographs are essential to be preserved by military members:
    • use tight fitting nitrile gloves or wash hands well (gloves can inhibit dexterity)
    • try to eliminate photos exposure to dust and over intrusive light
    • mylar sleeves attract static, but are appropriate
    • do not use adhesives on photo album pages
    • do not stack photos on top of each other, stack envelopes of photos vertically and if need to stack use acid-free mats in between to give space
    • keep temperature stable
    • store originals or negatives separately as negatives can give off odors and gases that destroy and are highly combustible.

Digital Information Preservation

  • Save the digital document or material in the following formats:
    • .csv
    • .pdf
    • .tif
    • .wav
    • .avi
  • Resolution: 200/400
  • Save in a bitonal, greyscale, color
  • Avoid unfamiliar abbreviations or codes
    • use numbers and letters, preceding zeros, avoid spaces or special characters, YYYYMMDD/YYYY-MM-DD, use same system across board, no more than 2-3 folders deep for naming files and folders
  • Keep all related items together or co-located
  • Have a master inventory sheet (digital and physical)
    • use Excel and consolidate to eliminate duplicates
    • make sure to add descriptions, storage locations and relationships
  • Have 3 copies of master file on 2 types of media and 1 copy in a geographically distant locale
    • hard drives, network storage, optical discs, external drives (usb), cloud
    • NEVER use phones or personal devices
  • Be sure the files are opened and are not corrupt every couple years

Preservation Overall Tips

  • Look at artifacts and keep tabs on any damage, yellowing, tarnish, pests.
  • Change tissue/housing if necessary
  • Keep a master list for all your artifacts
  • Write down why they are important and significant as it helps family in the future
  • Stay away from attics, garage or basements
  • DampRid buckets are great
  • Dehumidifiers that have automatic draining, large capacity and auto shut-off
  • Keep all documents off the floor, away from water such as kitchens, bathrooms and pipes
  • Wall mounted shelves is ideal, no floor shelves
  • Keep food and drink away as to protect from rodents and use carefully a pest control with sticky traps
  • Avoid:
    • Page protectors, post-its, tape, staples, metal clips etc
    • Never laminate
  • Lastly, have fun with this as it can provide a sense of pride and worth, as it should because every service member is amazing and has done great things for their country.

Obtain lost or damaged items (Reference sites):

Where to obtain materials to preserve artifacts:

Preservation resources: