Wednesday, May 16, 2012

Leslie Sabo Finally Receives the Medal of Honor

Sergeant Leslie H Sabo, Jr, US Army, was today awarded the Medal of Honor, posthumously, for action in combat against North Vietnamese forces at Se San, Cambodia on 10 May 1970.  Serving then as a Specialist Four (like today’s medal, he was promoted posthumously) and assigned to B Company, 3rd Battalion, 506th Infantry, 101st Airborne Division, he was part of a advanced reconnaissance patrol of two platoons probing areas that were used by the NVA for the Tet Offensive, when they were ambushed in a relatively open clearing by a force of about 150 NVA troops lying in prepared positions in a jungle tree line.

SP4 Sabo was toward the rear of the patrol and immediately fought back in a successful attempt to refuse the attackers' movement to surround and overrun the patrol.  A grenade was thrown by the enemy which landed near a wounded US soldier, and Sabo ran out from his protected position near a tree in order to pick up the grenade and throw it aside, shielding the soldier with his body and absorbing numerous shrapnel fragments from the grenade.  Thus wounded, he nevertheless then turned and attacked the enemy trench and killed the two occupants with his own grenade, but only after receiving several bullet wounds in the process, then pulled the wounded American soldier to protective cover.  The citation indicates that he succumbed to his wounds shortly thereafter, based, I expect, on what can be confirmed. 

Some witnesses continue the story, however.  As the firefight continued, with the patrol cut off from the rest of the US force, ammunition began running low.  Sabo then repeatedly exposed himself to enemy fire in order to retrieve ammunition from the American dead and wounded, and redistributed it among the combat effectives still engaged with the NVA.  By nightfall, the reserve platoon of B Company broke through as medevac helicopters began landing to extract the wounded, drawing heavy fire from the NVA.  Sabo stepped into the open to provide covering fire for the helicopters as they sought to recover two of his wounded comrades, and continued to fire until his ammunition was exhausted.  He was killed by the NVA while trying to reload.  The ambush resulted in 7 KIA and 28 WIA. 

Sabo was born in Austria in 1948, to Hungarian parents who were refugees from the Communist takeover of their country.  Growing up in a small town in Pennsylvania, he proposed to his high school sweetheart, Rose Mary Bucelli, and married her while on leave after basic training at Fort Benning, Georgia.  He shipped out within a few weeks.  His new wife said she begged him to stay, but he replied that he had seen Communism tear apart his native Hungary, and the result that it had had on his family.  He felt obligated to fight against it and he understood the reason for the war. 

Oddly, the Army told his widow and family that he had been shot by a sniper while guarding an ammunition dump, possibly to shield the news that the action had taken place in Cambodia.  His company commander, Captain Jim Waybright, recommended him for the Medal of Honor, but there is no explanation as to why the recommendation became lost.  Years later, 101st veteran Alton Mabb found the documents while digging through the National Archives and made it his goal to see that SGT Sabo received his recognition, ultimately pushing it through by act of Congress with the help of Representatives Corrine Brown and Jason Altmire.  The Army offers no explanation for the delay other than to say that the recommendation "more or less fell through the cracks."

"The wheels of the gods grind slowly", but Sergeant Sabo has finally received the commendation that he deserved.

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