President Barack Obama has announced that Spc. 4 Leslie H. Sabo Jr., a rifleman with the 101st Airborne Division, will posthumously receive the Medal of Honor May 16 for his actions during the Vietnam War.
Sabo is credited with saving the lives of several of his comrades in Company B, 3rd Battalion, 506th Infantry when his platoon was ambushed May 10, 1970, near the Se San River in eastern Cambodia. Sabo shielded a comrade from an enemy grenade and silenced a machine-gun bunker before he was killed.
Sabo’s widow, Rose Mary Sabo-Brown, and his brother, George Sabo, have been invited to the White House for the Medal of Honor ceremony. President Obama recently telephoned Sabo-Brown to inform her that her late husband would receive the nation’s highest award for valor.
“It was a very emotional day,” she said. “A very, very emotional day. I couldn’t even sleep that night. And when I did fall asleep finally and I woke up the next morning, I went, ‘Now wait a minute, did I dream this? Is it really real?'”
“I couldn’t be more proud of him,” Sabo-Brown said. In her home near New Castle, Pa., Sabo-Brown has set up museum of sorts in tribute to her late husband and his comrades who were killed in Cambodia.
Even though his platoon was ambushed from all sides by a large enemy force, Sabo charged the enemy position, killing several enemy Soldiers. He then assaulted an enemy flanking force, successfully drawing their fire away from friendly Soldiers and ultimately forcing the enemy to retreat. While securing a re-supply of ammunition, an enemy grenade landed nearby. Specialist Sabo picked it up, threw it, and shielded a wounded comrade with his own body – absorbing the brunt of the blast and saving his comrade’s life.
Although wounded by the grenade blast, Sabo continued to charge the enemy’s bunker. After receiving several serious wounds from automatic weapons fire, he crawled toward the enemy emplacement and, when in position, threw a grenade into the bunker. The resulting explosion silenced the enemy fire, but also ended Specialist Sabo’s life. His indomitable courage and complete disregard for his own safety saved the lives of many of his platoon members.
Sabo’s unit nominated him for the Medal of Honor, but the paperwork was lost until Tony Mabb, a Vietnam veteran of the 101st Airborne Division and a writer for the “Screaming Eagle” association magazine, came across a thick file on Sabo while on a research trip to the National Archives military repository in College Park, Md.
Mabb contacted his congresswoman, who recommended DOD reconsider a medal of valor for Sabo. Mabb also made contact with Sabo’s widow, Rose Mary Sabo-Brown, who lives in New Castle, Pa.
“The Leslie I know would give his life to anybody,” she said. “He would. He would give you the shirt off his back. That’s the kind of man he was.”
(Soldiers magazine reporter Elizabeth M. Collins interviewed Rose Mary Sabo-Brown in Pennsylvania last week and contributed to this article, which is based on a White House release.)