For making national defense his highest priority, Reagan received the Legion's Distinguished Service Medal in 1982.
As commander in chief, Reagan has "prioritized the defense of the (United States) by embracing the concept of peace through preparedness, has displayed untiring efforts and patriotic devotion in perpetuating American principles, and has fostered the renewed spirit of volunteerism in America, which is in keeping with the highest traditions of The American Legion," the National Executive Committee stated.
Recognizing the first crew of the space shuttle Columbia, the Legion presented its Distinguished Service Medal to Young and Crippen in 1981.
Though they could not attend the Legion's national convention because they were busy preparing Columbia's second crew for an October mission, fellow astronaut Karol J. Bobko told Legionnaires, "I believe these times of voyage into the space of our solar system will be viewed by future generations in the same way as we today view the voyages of the European explorers of the 16th and 17th centuries."
In 1980, The American Legion awarded its Distinguished Service Medal to the dead and missing of the Vietnam War. Numbering more than 58,000, these Americans were honored posthumously with the medal, just as the unknown servicemembers of World War I, World War II and the Korean War were honored by the Legion in 1958.
Following a presidential commemoration of Vietnam casualties at Arlington National Cemetery, the National Executive Committee resolved that The American Legion would not forget those who died or remain missing in Vietnam.
A World War II Navy veteran and the nation's only non-elected vice president and president, Ford received the Legion's Distinguished Service Medal in 1980.
Following Spiro Agnew's resignation in 1973, Ford was appointed vice president. He served just 10 months before President Nixon resigned, and he became the 38th president, leading the nation through the troubled post-Watergate years. Upon taking office, Ford told the nation, "I assume the presidency under extraordinary circumstances ... This is an hour of history that troubles our minds and hurts our hearts."
For his dedication to the great American pastime and his support for American Legion Baseball, Major League Baseball Commissioner Bowie K. Kuhn received the Distinguished Service Medal in 1978.
Presenting the honor, National Commander Robert C. Smith said Kuhn's recognition of American Legion Baseball and its contributions to the sport "span his career as a representative of the National League and his term as commissioner."
In 1977, Rusk received the Legion's Distinguished Service Medal for pioneering rehabilitative medicine as wounded World War II veterans returned home with physical challenges.
National Commander William Rogers praised the doctor for crusading "to alleviate the suffering of the handicapped throughout the world." Rusk headed the internationally known Institute of Rehabilitation Medicine of New York University Medical Center, served as been president and chairman of the board of the American-Korean Foundation since 1953, and was a member of the Legion's Medical Advisory Board.
For providing quality family entertainment and serving his country during World War I, O'Brien received the Legion's Distinguished Service Medal in 1976.
Accustomed to the spotlight, O'Brien, a Navy veteran, was nevertheless humble when accepting the award. "The pride in all of our hearts as Legionnaires is something that is beyond description in words," he said. "I have been a Legionnaire since 1927. That's practically 50 years."