Four Decades Later, Vietnam War Hero Spec. Leslie Sabo Receives Medal of Honor
Forty-two years after his selfless act of heroism during the Vietnam war saved the lives of his fellow soldiers, Army Specialist Leslie H. Sabo, Jr. posthumously received the Medal of Honor at a White House ceremony on Wednesday.
President Obama presented the nation’s highest decoration for valor to Sabo’s widow, Rose Mary Brown, and brother, George Sabo.
The then 22-year-old Sabo died on May 10, 1970 as his patrol was ambushed near a remote border area of Cambodia. The attack by North Vietnamese troops killed seven of Sabo’s fellow soldiers from the 101st Airborne Division and would come to be known as the “Mother’s Day ambush.”
A White House statement announcing Sabo’s receipt of the Medal of Honor in April described how Sabo gave his life that day to silence the enemy fire.
According to the release, Sabo charged enemy positions and killed several North Vietnamese fighters while drawing fire away from his unit.
Later, Sabo used his body to shield a wounded soldier from the blast of a tossed grenade. Wounded by automatic weapons fire, he crawled towards an enemy bunker and dropped a grenade that “silenced the enemy fire, but also ended Specialist Sabo’s life.”The statement said Sabo’s “indomitable courage and complete disregard for his own safety saved the lives of many of his platoon members.”
Sabo’s commanders nominated him for the Medal of Honor, but the request may not have been properly processed and was subsequently lost.
A campaign to correct the oversight began in 1999 when Tony Mabb, a researcher for the 101st Airborne Division Association’s magazine, came across a thick file of Sabo’s paperwork in the National Archives.
Mabb contacted members of Congress who worked to extend the statute of limitations for nominations for the Medal of Honor so Sabo’s case could be reviewed. Nominations for the Medal have to be made within three years after the incident.
After legislation was passed in 2008 that eliminated that hurdle, the Army’s recommendation that Sabo should receive the Medal of Honor was forwarded to the White House in 2010. The White House announced in April that President Obama would posthumously award the medal to Sabo’s family.
Sabo immigrated with his family from Austria as a toddler. He met Rose Mary at a high school football game and after dating for two years they were married in 1969 after he received his draft notice.
The 30 days of Army leave he received before being deployed overseas were the only time he and his wife would spend together as a married couple before he was killed in action the following May.
In April, Brown told the Army News Service: “I couldn’t be more proud of him.”