Vietnam at 50 - Lasting Legacy

At the Vietnam Veterans Memorial in Washington, D.C.

Vietnam's lasting legacy

The draft forced hard choices for the men who fought, and those who didn’t. But it also led the way to today’s professional all-volunteer force. The war took helicopters in a whole new direction as weapons, critical to this day in Afghanistan. And the fear of another Vietnam quagmire became the lens through which today’s military action is viewed.


  • Legacy etched in Vietnam wall, Jan Scruggs ready to retire

    In 1981, the design for the Vietnam Veterans Memorial was met with howls of protest, a campaign to undermine it, racist comments and even a spurious Red Scare.

    At the center of the politicized melee, which aggravated a still-raw national wound just six years after the end of the war, was an unassuming Labor Department investigator named Jan Scruggs.

    No one had heard of him until he took a week off to start planning what would become one of the most recognizable monuments in the country.

  • The lingering stigma of the 'troubled vet'

    They came home without leaving Vietnam, angry and depressed, retreating from the world and burdened by memories of the dead.

    They came home intent on resuming their lives, changed but resilient, returning to work or school and driven by ambitions for the future.

    The first category describes most Vietnam veterans as depicted in Hollywood films. The second describes the ordinary reality most of them lived.


Returned photos reveal a father never known, 50-year-old promise kept

Beach activity at Da Nang, Vietnam, during landing of Marines of the 9th Marine Expeditionary Brigade in March 1965.

By Matthew M. Burke and Chiyomi Sumida

Stars and Stripes

Army Pfc. Pierre Mathieu Van Wissem went to Vietnam in 1965, and part of him never came home. After being wounded and deserting from a hospital in Germany, he went on to marry, become a father, divorce and run several businesses in Europe before quietly passing away in France in 2003. Now, more than 10 years after his death, his adult children have learned new things about him, thanks to a tenacious Okinawan man.

Decades later, 'Vietnam syndrome' still casts doubts on military action

The Vietnam War’s lasting impact on America’s foreign policy is largely characterized by doubt, in the opinions of many analysts. Driving those doubts is the desire to avoid another open-ended commitment with an uncertain endgame, where U.S. troops spend years on the ground in a foreign country, fighting against an enemy that can blend back into the civilian population.

Faces of the Wall reaches 20,000 photos as education center gains momentum

Volunteers scattered across the country have been working to gather photos of every one of the 58,300 dead American servicemembers whose names are listed on the Vietnam Veterans Memorial. One official said that after years of work, the process has reached a stage akin to a bit of snow giving way to an avalanche.

Vietnam leads to the death of the draft and the rise of the professional soldier

While Vietnam was a low point, it also served as the engine of change that brought about perhaps the single greatest reform to transform the military in the post-Vietnam war era: the launch of the all-volunteer force. Its legacy is the warrior class of today, the 1.3 million-strong active-duty service that is just a fraction of the roughly 140 million Americans eligible to serve.


  • The press and public turn skeptical on war outlook

    In early 1968, not long after the Tet offensive, CBS News anchorman Walter Cronkite traveled to Vietnam to gauge the war’s progress. Cronkite, who before the trip had supported the U.S. military campaign in Southeast Asia, returned to his desk in New York with his perspective at once enlightened and darkened.

  • Emotions flow at first ever Honor Flight for Vietnam veterans

    More than 100 Vietnam veterans traveled to Washington, D.C., on August 2, 2013, on an Honor Flight for Wisconsin vets. They came to visit their buddies — forever 19 or 20 or 21. Everywhere they went, they were treated as heroes. They were moved. They were touched.

  • In Memory Day honors Vietnam War veterans not listed on the Wall

    When Carol Fox placed a picture of her husband, Capt. Walker Paul Fox, at the Vietnam Wall as part of the In Memory Day ceremony on Thursday, it was another bit of closure for the families of 96 veterans whose names won’t be carved into the granite.

Prisoners of the Hanoi Hilton

Beach activity at Da Nang, Vietnam, during landing of Marines of the 9th Marine Expeditionary Brigade in March 1965.

Vietnam POW returns to the Hanoi Hilton in search of closure

By Paul Alexander

Stars and Stripes

Lee Ellis remembers it all too well — the deprivation, the torture and the constant fight against depression as days turned into years. But just over a week before he went back to Vietnam for the first time since his release in 1973, he still wasn’t sure about how he felt about it.

The Hanoi Hilton today: Shackles, plaques and airbrushed history

By Paul Alexander

Stars and Stripes

Going inside the stone walls of the prison sarcastically dubbed the “Hanoi Hilton” brings a respite from the honking traffic outside – until the iron shackles, dark cells and guillotine hammer home the suffering that went on there.

Beach activity at Da Nang, Vietnam, during landing of Marines of the 9th Marine Expeditionary Brigade in March 1965.

GALLERY | Vietnam War Memorial and its impact


As Stars and Stripes looks at the monumental moments, actions and people from the Vietnam War on its 50th anniversary, we struggle to do justice to the life-changing war. So we’re hoping our readers can make sense of it. In six words. It’s not a new concept. Two Army veterans launched the Six Word War project, a crowd-sourced memoir of Iraq and Afghanistan.

We want to do the same for Vietnam. We’re looking for descriptions in six words of your Vietnam War experiences, at home or on the front lines. Whether you served, protested or lived the war through someone in your family. We’ll publish the results as part of our Vietnam at 50 project. Please submit your six words through Twitter with the tag #Vietnam6Words, or on our Facebook page.