On Wednesday, March 16, 2012, President Obama presented the Congressional Medal Of Honor to one of America’s fallen heroes, Sgt. Leslie Halasz Sabo, Jr. The moving ceremony was attended by Sgt. Sabo’s widow Rose Mary Sabo-Brown, his older brother George Sabo, members of Congress and ranking officers of the United States Military. Also attending was First Lady Michelle Obama, Secretary Of Defense Leon Panetta, former recipients of the Medal Of Honor and men from Sgt. Sabo’s Army Unit, the 101st. Airborne. The ceremony, which took place 42 years after Sgt. Sabo’s sacrifice, was long delayed as a result of misplaced military documents that were not rediscovered until 1999.
Leslie Sabo Jr. was born in Kufstein, Austria on February 22, 1948 to Elizabeth and Leslie Sabo, Sr., who fled their native Hungary to seek shelter in Austria during World War Two. After the war and the Soviet takeover of Hungary, the family emigrated to the United States. The Sabos settled in Youngstown, Ohio and later moved to Ellwood City, Pennsylvania, where Leslie Jr. attended High School. When Leslie Jr. was 16, he and his father both proudly took the oath and became citizens of the United States.
Sabo was drafted into the United States Army in April, 1969 and sent to Fort Benning, Georgia for basic training. While on leave, he married Rose Sabo-Brown (née Buccelli), the daughter of a World War II veteran and Silver Star Medal recipient. Sgt. Sabo served in the 3rd Battalion, 506th Infantry Regiment, 101st Airborne Division, United States Army, known famously as the “Screaming Eagles.”
On May 10, 1970, Sgt. Sabo gave his life in Cambodia during a battle that has become known as “The Mother’s Day Ambush.” The Medal Of Honor Citation for Sgt. Sabo reads as follows:
“The President of the United States of America, authorized by Act of Congress, March 3, 1863, has awarded in the name of Congress the Medal of Honor to
Specialist Four Leslie H. Sabo, Jr.
United States Army
For conspicuous gallantry and intrepidity at the risk of his life above and beyond the call of duty:
Specialist Four Leslie H. Sabo Jr. distinguished himself by conspicuous acts of gallantry and intrepidity above and beyond the call of duty at the cost of his own life while serving as a rifleman in Company B, 3d Battalion, 506th Infantry, 101st Airborne Division in Se San, Cambodia, on May 10, 1970. On that day, Specialist Four Sabo and his platoon were conducting a reconnaissance patrol when they were ambushed from all sides by a large enemy force. Without hesitation, Specialist Four Sabo charged an enemy position, killing several enemy soldiers. Immediately thereafter, he assaulted an enemy flanking force, successfully drawing their fire away from friendly soldiers and ultimately forcing the enemy to retreat. In order to re-supply ammunition, he sprinted across an open field to a wounded comrade. As he began to reload, an enemy grenade landed nearby. Specialist Four Sabo picked it up, threw it, and shielded his comrade with his own body, thus absorbing the brunt of the blast and saving his comrade’s life. Seriously wounded by the blast, Specialist Four Sabo nonetheless retained the initiative and then single-handedly charged an enemy bunker that had inflicted severe damage on the platoon, receiving several serious wounds from automatic weapons fire in the process. Now mortally injured, he crawled towards the enemy emplacement and, when in position, threw a grenade into the bunker. The resulting explosion silenced the enemy fire, but also ended Specialist Four Sabo’s life. His indomitable courage and complete disregard for his own safety saved the lives of many of his platoon members. Specialist Four Sabo’s extraordinary heroism and selflessness, above and beyond the call of duty, at the cost of his life, are in keeping with the highest traditions of military service and reflect great credit upon himself, Company B, 3d Battalion, 506th Infantry, 101st Airborne Division, and the United States Army.”
The much deserved Medal of Honor would never have been presented had it not been for the diligence of Alton Mabb, a veteran of the 101st. Airborne. In 1999, Mabb was doing research at the National Archives for the 101st. Airborne Magazine and he came across the missing documents that recommended Sgt. Sabo for the Congressional Medal of Honor.
Alton Mabb requested copies of the documentation and began the thirteen year campaign that ended on May 16, 2012 with the presentation of the Congressional Medal of Honor to the once forgotten hero. At the ceremony, Sgt. Sabo’s widow, Rose Mary, expressed her feelings with this bittersweet comment, “I know a piece of cloth and a medal won’t bring him back, but my heart beams with pride for Leslie because he is finally receiving tribute for his sacrifices and bravery.”
Sgt. Sabo’s Medal of Honor is especially significant as this year’s Memorial Day marks the 50th Anniversary of the beginning of the Vietnam war. In that tragic war, thousands of Americans gave their lives along with millions of Vietnamese. President Obama spoke to the memory of every one of the brave Americans who made the ultimate sacrifice for their country, when he said, “Instead of being celebrated, our Vietnam veterans were often shunned. They were called many things when there was only one thing that they deserved to be called and that was American patriots.”
Leslie Sabo Jr. was one of those American patriots who gave his life in Vietnam. On Memorial Day, the President will attend ceremonies at the Vietnam Memorial in Washington, D.C. On that solemn black wall, there are 58,272 names of Americans who never returned home to their loved ones. Instead they gave their lives in the harsh jungles, skies and cities of far away Vietnam. Let us all remember their sacrifice and honor their memories.
On Memorial Day, 2012, take a moment to give thanks to all the patriots who gave their lives in service to our country. There have been many wars and many have died since this great nation was founded over 235 years ago. It was their sacrifice that allows each and every one of us to enjoy the freedoms and privileges of being an American.