With a vote of 224 for and 186 against, the House fell short of the two-thirds majority needed to pass a bill awarding the Congressional Gold Medal to the three prime movers behind the Vietnam Veterans Memorial in Washington.
The three, who served in Vietnam, are Robert Doubek, Jan Scruggs and Jack Wheeler.
The bill (HR 2591), previously approved by the Senate, required more than a simple majority because it was debated under rules that limit debate and prohibit floor amendments.
George Washington, Thomas Edison, Robert Frost and Winston Churchill are among the 121 recipients of the prestigious medal.
Supporter Frank Annunzio (D-Ill.) called the memorial bearing the names of about 58,000 U.S. troops killed in Vietnam a symbol of national reconciliation and said it "would not have been built without the hard work, faith and determination" of Wheeler, Scruggs and Doubek.
Opponent Thomas Ridge (R-Pa.), himself a Vietnam veteran, said it was inappropriate to honor these three over "tens of thousands of Vietnam veterans whose very existences are literally profiles in courage" and countless other veterans who bear invisible wounds.