Established by Dwight D. Eisenhower in 1953, the National Defense Service medal was originally intended to be a "blanket campaign" medal given to any U.S. Armed Service member who served honorably during a national emergency in a declared time of war or conflict. To that end, it was first given out during the Korean War, making it the U.S's oldest service medal still in use.
As the definition of combat has changed in the modern world, the medal is now awarded as the Secretary of Defnse designates. To date, it has been given for service in the Korean War between June 27, 1950 and July 27, 1954; the Vietnam War between January 1, 1961 and August 14, 1974; the Persian Gulf War between August 2, 1990 and November 30, 1995; and the Global War on Terrorism from September 11, 2001 through the present.
Designed by T.H. Jones, the National Defense Service medal is a 1 1/4-inch round bronze medallion featuring a bald eagle with inverted wings resting on a perch made from a sword and palm fronds. The words "National Defense" curve across the top. On the back is a shield taken from the U.S. Coat of Arms above an open wreath: to the left are laurel leaves signifying preparedness; to the right, oak leaves representing strength.
The medal hangs from a ribbon with a wide golden center stripe flanked on either side by narrow bands of scarlet, white, Old Glory blue, white, and then wide stripes of scarlet. The medal can be given more than once; subsequent awards are denoted by bronze service stars on the clasp.
The National Defense Service medal ranks eleventh of 29 in order of precedence for service medals.