WASHINGTON – Defense Secretary Leon Panetta on Thursday apologized to the family of Spc. Leslie Sabo Jr., a soldier killed 42 years ago in Cambodia and awarded the Medal of Honor this week.
“It has taken over 40 years to correct this wrong. I think we owe the Sabo family an apology for a citation that somehow got lost,” Panetta said at a ceremony inducting Sabo into the Pentagon’s Hall of Heroes.
Sabo was a rifleman in Company D, 3rd Battalion, 506th Infantry Regiment, 101st Airborne Division. On May 10, 1970, he and his platoon were ambushed in Se San, Cambodia, according to Army records. Sabo charged an enemy position and killed several enemy troops, drawing fire away from other members of his company.
When a grenade landed near an injured comrade, Sabo threw it back and shielded the soldier from the blast with his own body. Though he was wounded in that blast, he charged another enemy position and was wounded again before throwing a grenade at enemy fighters nearby, killing them and himself.
Sabo was recommended for the Medal of Honor shortly after the battle, but Army officials said they lost the paperwork. In 1999, a writer for the 101st Airborne Division association’s magazine found Sabo’s records in the National Archives.
Panetta said the loss of the records and the long lag in recognition for Sabo’s heroic actions is “the kind of thing that scares the hell out of me every day.”
Army Secretary John McHugh also apologized and said it took “far too long” for Sabo to be honored.
“If there’s any stain on this story, it’s ours to bear,” he said.