For "a lifetime devoted to public service and dedicated to the complete security of our country, not only through his vigorous support of our armed forces ... but in upholding the ideals upon which our great nation was founded," National Commander Alfred P. Chamie awarded Rivers the Distinguished Service Medal posthumously in 1971.

Accepting the award on behalf of his father, L. Mendel Rivers Jr. called The American Legion the "guardian of something very precious in America, willing to stand up and proclaim that this land is all we have, and that it's worth worrying about."

A Southern Democrat, Rivers spent nearly 30 years in the House, entering office during World War II and dying as the nation was fighting in Vietnam. He served as chairman of the powerful House Armed Services Committee from 1965 until his death in 1970, at 65.

Rivers' public career started in the South Carolina House of Representatives in 1933. He served for three years before moving to Washington as an assistant to the U.S. attorney general. Rivers returned to South Carolina for a short time before winning election to the U.S. House of Representatives.

A Democrat, Rivers supported Eisenhower for president in 1952, concerned that his party's position on civil rights was too liberal. He is often credited with helping build a nuclear Navy.

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