Posthumous Medal of Honor awarded to Ellwood City soldier
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Forty-two years after he died in the "Mother's Day ambush" in Cambodia, Leslie Sabo of Ellwood City has been awarded the Medal of Honor, the nation's highest military decoration.
President Obama will present the medal to his widow, Rose Mary Sabo Brown, in a White House ceremony May 16.
Spc. Sabo died May 10, 1970, while trying to save fellow soldiers from a North Vietnamese ambush that killed seven of his 101st Airborne Division comrades.
After hours of desperate fighting to keep his unit from being surrounded, Spc. Sabo left cover to start first aid on a wounded comrade, then threw himself on top of the man to shield him from a grenade blast. Badly wounded by fragments in his back, he jumped up and counter-attacked, hurling his own grenades and killing two North Vietnamese soldiers.
As the battle dragged on and the unit's ammo ran low, Spc. Sabo sprinted through fire again to strip ammo belts from fallen soldiers to distribute to the other men. He ducked behind a tree and was shot in the leg.
As darkness fell, it was up to his platoon to secure a landing zone for helicopters to evacuate 30 wounded men.
When the choppers arrived, Spc. Sabo stepped from behind cover once again and opened fire with his M-16, forcing the enemy to seek cover and allowing other soldiers to kill a North Vietnamese soldier who had been standing in the landing zone.
Spc. Sabo's ammo finally ran out. As he was loading another clip, he was hit multiple times and collapsed in the dirt.
He was 22.
One of his fellow soldiers, who has since died, recommended him for the Medal of Honor shortly after the engagement. But the recommendation and the description of what Spc. Sabo did that day got lost in the bureaucracy.
It languished for decades until 1999, when Alton "Tony" Mabb, a Vietnam veteran of the 101st Airborne and a columnist for "Screaming Eagle," the division association magazine, came across the recommendation while he was visiting the new National Archives military repository in College Park, Md., to do research on Vietnam Medal of Honor winners.
Mr. Mabb wrote about Spc. Sabo in the magazine. He also contacted U.S. Rep. Corrine Brown, D. Fla., who wrote to the Defense Department asking that Mr. Sabo be recognized.
In 2006, then-Secretary of the Army Francis Harvey recommended Spc. Sabo for the medal.
But there was a hitch: The Medal of Honor must be awarded within three years of the soldier's action. An extension requires an act of Congress.
So Rep. Brown worked to include language into the 2008 defense authorization bill that extended the statute of limitations for Spc. Sabo.
After President George W. Bush signed the bill, Mr. Sabo's family contacted Rep. Jason Altmire, D-McCandless, for help in shepherding the process through the Defense Department again. The congressman repeatedly asked for updates and was told that the Army was still investigating.
Finally, in March 2010, Secretary of the Army John McHugh said he would recommend the medal for Spc. Sabo.
The Medal of Honor is relatively rare. Of the 2.1 million men who served in Vietnam, 246 earned it -- 154 of them posthumously.
First Published April 17, 2012 1:06 pm