SASEBO NAVAL BASE, Japan — The White House announced Monday that a 101st Airborne soldier will be posthumously awarded the nation’s highest valor award for actions that took place in Cambodia during the Vietnam War, more than 40 years ago.
President Barack Obama will award the Medal of Honor to Army Spc. Leslie H. Sabo, Jr., a rifleman in Company D, 3rd Battalion, 506th Infantry Regiment, in a ceremony at the White House on May 16, according to a White House news release. The president will be joined by Sabo’s widow, Rose Mary Sabo-Brown, and his brother, George.
On May 10, 1970, Sabo and his platoon were ambushed by a large enemy force in Se San, Cambodia, where they had been sent to attack North Vietnamese units who were using the country as a staging area, according to an account reported by the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette.
The White House news release said Sabo “immediately” charged the enemy position and killed several soldiers. He then forced the enemy to retreat by assaulting a flanking force and successfully drawing fire away from his platoon members.
Later, during an ammunition resupply mission, an enemy grenade landed nearby, the White House news release said. Sabo picked up the grenade, 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, Sabo then charged an enemy bunker, the release said. He received several serious wounds from automatic weapons fire in the assault. Despite his injuries, Sabo crawled toward the bunker and threw a grenade inside. The explosion silenced the enemy, but claimed Sabo’s life in the process.
According to the Post-Gazette, seven other 101st Airborne soldiers died in the ambush.
“His indomitable courage and complete disregard for his own safety saved the lives of many of his platoon members,” the White House release said.
According to the Post-Gazette, the 22-year-old from Ellwood City, Pa., was recommended for the Medal of Honor shortly after his actions, but the citation was lost. In 1999, a writer for the 101st Division association magazine came across Sabo’s records at the National Archives, and coupled with two members of Congress, was able to finally bring the recommendation to the president’s desk.
Rose Mary Sabo-Brown told the Post-Gazette two years ago that she was sure he would receive the honor.
“Two soldiers came to my house 40 years ago to tell me my husband was killed,” she told the Post-Gazette in 2010. “And now two soldiers are going to come to my house again and tell me that he has received the Medal of Honor.”
Leslie Sabo was born in Austria in 1948 and came to the U.S. with his family when he was 2, the Post-Gazette reported. The family briefly lived in Ohio before moving to Ellwood City. After graduating high school in 1966, he briefly attended Youngstown State University but dropped out to work in a steel mill, according to the Post-Gazette. He was drafted in 1969 and married Rose Sabo-Brown soon after while home on leave.
“I couldn’t be more proud,” Sabo-Brown told the Post-Gazette. “I’m even more happy that he’s getting it for all the guys.”
According to the Congressional Medal of Honor Society, the Medal of Honor has been awarded 3,457 times since the first in 1863. The medal has been awarded 246 times for service in Vietnam, 154 posthumously. Today, there are less than 100 living recipients.