This Week In History
On July 8, 1965, President Lyndon B. Johnson, Commander in Chief of the U.S. armed forces, signed Executive Order 11231, which officially created the Vietnam Service Medal. The medal’s ribbon has become highly recognizable, featuring a yellow background and three red stripes (referencing the South Vietnamese flag), flanked by two green stripes on either side.
The medal features a stylized Vietnamese dragon behind a bundle of bamboo stalks and the words “Republic of Vietnam Service.” On the back of the medal there is a crossbow (an ancient weapon iconic in much of Southeast Asia), a lighted torch, and the words “United States of America.”
The Vietnam Service Medal was awarded to members of the U.S. armed forces who served in combat operations, or for specific periods of time, between July 4, 1965 and March 28, 1973. Those who received the Armed Forces Expeditionary Medal for service in Vietnam between July 1, 1958 and July 3, 1965, also became eligible for the Vietnam Service Medal. For each subsequent campaign served, campaign stars were added to the medal’s ribbon.
Since the end of the war, the Vietnam Service Medal has become an icon of the Vietnam veteran, serving as inspiration in the designs for numerous patches, hats, decals, license plate devices, and more. Millions of veterans received the award, including any who served in South Vietnam, North Vietnam, Cambodia, Laos, Thailand, and in any contiguous waters or airspace.1
1USAF Fact Sheet, “Vietnam Service Medal,” Background and Criteria, http://www.afpc.af.mil/library/factsheets/factsheet_print.asp?fsID=7807&page=1 (accessed 3/10/14). “Service Medals and Campaign Credits of the United States Navy: Vietnam Service Medal” https://www.history.navy.mil/browse-by-topic/heritage/awards/service-campaign/vietnam-service-medal.html (accessed 7/7/16). “Executive Order 11231 – Establishing the Vietnam Service Medal,” http://www.archives.gov/federal-register/codification/executive-order/11231.html (accessed 7/15/14); U.S. Army Institute of Heraldry, “Campaign and Service Medals: Vietnam Service Medal,” http://www.tioh.hqda.pentagon.mil/Catalog/Heraldry.aspx?HeraldryId=15307&CategoryId=4&grp=4&menu=Decorations%20and%20Medals&ps=24&p=0 (accessed 7/6/16).