The Vietnam Service Medal (VSM) is one of several service awards for which Servicemembers of the Armed Forces of the United States who served in Vietnam and some of the surrounding countries might be eligible. Established by Executive Order 11231 on July 8, 1965, the VSM is intended to recognize those Servicemembers of the United States Armed Forces who served in Vietnam (including its contiguous waters and airspace), as well as in the countries and airspace of Thailand, Laos, or Cambodia after July 3, 1965 and March 28, 1973.
These dates likely seem mysterious to even casual history readers, who are well aware that the United States had members of its Armed Forces deployed in Vietnam prior to 3 July 1965 and after 28 March 1973 (the famous evacuation of Saigon took place more than two years later). But these dates were chosen because of the establishment of other medals for which Servicemembers likely qualify. The wording the Executive Order creating the Armed Forces Expeditionary Medal made it clear that American military personnel who served in Vietnam between July 1, 1958 and July 4, 1965 would qualify for that medal, while those who took part in the evacuation of Saigon between April 29 and April 30, 1975 would qualify for the same honor. The only caveat regarding these three awards is that anyone who qualifies for two or more of them may choose to accept only one.
Assuming Servicemembers operated in the geographical areas painfully spelled out in various Navy, Army and Department of Defense regulations, the primary criteria for earning the VSM is to have been attached to or regularly served for one or more days with (a) an organization participating in or directly supporting military operations, (b) aboard a U.S. naval vessel directly supporting military operations, or (c) actually participated as a crewmember in at least one aerial flight into airspace above Vietnam (and contiguous water) directly supporting military operations. Servicemembers on temporary duty who spent at least 30 consecutive or 60 non-consecutive days in Vietnam or contiguous areas also qualify, but even those time limits are waived if they participated in actual combat operations.
There were a significant number of official Campaigns (17) conducted throughout the Vietnam Conflict, and recipients of the VSM are entitled to a bronze service star for each one in which they took part. However, simply being with a unit that took part in one of the offensives is not enough to earn the bronze service start. Please refer to section 2-13 in AR 600-8-22, Military Awards, to see the full list of qualifying factors needed for bronze service-star eligibility.