Military medals are a symbol of a soldier’s bravery and valor. Each one tells a story of a person who rose to the occasion. And for Hayden Hudson, the medals are works of art that can preserve and honor history.
Hudson, a 20-year-old Navarre, Florida native, said he started collecting medals at nine-years-old, which has since has grown to about 30 medals. And he doesn’t plan on stopping anytime soon.
He said he finds lost and abandoned military medals in all sorts of places such as antique shops and sometimes directly from the families of deceased veterans.
“They just want them to go to somebody who cares and appreciates them,” said Hudson.
Hudson displays the variety of colorful ribbons, metal stars and enameled medallions in felt-lined boxes and on wooden plaques. He said his collection includes the Bronze Star, for heroic achievement; and an Air Medal, for acts of heroism; and the Purple Heart, to those wounded or killed while serving.
In addition to medals, Hudson also collects other military memorabilia because of his love for history. And, he attributes his love for history to his father. His entire collection ranges from military uniforms and helmets to his favorite piece — a pocket watch that his grandma’s uncle received as a thank you from a dying soldier in combat.
“I’ll receive some negative feedback time to time and they say I shouldn’t be doing this,” Hudson said. He said that response is rare and that his goal is to connect the veteran’s medal with the families.
Tom Hennessey, a Vietnam veteran who served for 28 years, said that collecting military medals is just like collecting anything else. He approves of collecting medals if there is an attempt to reunite the medals with the veteran’s families. And this is exactly what Hudson does, however rarely successful.
“Sometimes the family just doesn’t want them back,” Hudson said. “I contacted a family a few months ago about a medal I had, and I never heard back.”
When he first gets a medal, he looks for a name, which can be difficult. Names are only engraved upon a soldier’s request. From there, he conducts internet searches for obituaries, military archives and relatives of the veteran. He documents what he can find on each medal, he told WUFT.
The value of the medals is determined by its prestige, the veteran associated with it and the history the piece carries, said Hudson.
“It all depends on the value you give something,” said Hennessey, who was awarded the third-highest military combat decoration, the Silver Star. He said military medals vary in rank but fall into two main categories. “Merit awards are for doing something well,” Hennessey said. “Action in conflict awards are for acts of valor or acts of heroism.”
Hudson said he is not a part of any collector groups, but he participates in Facebook groups and other online forums to share his collection.