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In June 1969, LIFE magazine published a feature that remains as moving and, in some quarters, as controversial as it was when it intensified a nation’s soul-searching 45 years ago. On the cover, a young man’s face—the very model of middle-America’s “boy next door”—along with 11 stark words: “The Faces of the American Dead in Vietnam: One Week’s Toll.” Inside, across 10 funereal pages, LIFE published picture after picture and name after name of 242 young men killed in seven days halfway around the world “in connection with the conflict in Vietnam.”
To no one’s surprise, the public’s response was immediate, and visceral. Some readers expressed amazement, in light of the thousands of American deaths suffered in a war with no end in sight, that it took so long for LIFE to produce something as dramatic and pointed as “One Week’s Toll.” Others were outraged that the magazine was, as one reader saw it, “supporting the antiwar demonstrators who are traitors to this country.” Still others—perhaps the vast majority—were quietly and disconsolately devastated.
[Read readers’ responses below, and see how ‘One Week’s Dead’ looked when it ran in LIFE]
Here, LIFE.com republishes every picture and every name that originally appeared in that extraordinary 1969 feature. Below is the text, in full, that not only accompanied portraits of those killed, but also explained why LIFE chose to publish “One Week’s Dead” when it did—and in the manner that it did.
From the June 27, 1969, issue of LIFE:
Here are some of the reactions from readers, published in the August 18, 1969, issue of LIFE—an issue in which the entire Letters section of the magazine was given over to responses to “One Week’s Dead”: