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.

Between 1955 and 1975, the U.S. role in Vietnam escalated from hundreds of advisers to tens of thousands of troops. The war generated controversy at home in the late 1960s and early 1970s, resulting in widespread protests, and many veterans were shunned or forgotten upon their return.

In time, the nation paid tribute to those who died or were declared missing. The largest monument to their lives is the Vietnam Veterans Memorial in Washington, where visitors to the nation's capital stop at "the Wall" to pray, meditate or find the name of a loved one. When the memorial was dedicated in 1982, it was immediately listed on the National Register of Historic Places. Flowers, notes and other mementoes are often placed there in memory of the fallen.

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