WASHINGTON – President Barack Obama is awarding the Medal of Honor to a Pennsylvania Army specialist killed in combat in 1970 while serving as a rifleman in Cambodia during the Vietnam War.
Paperwork for the award was lost for three decades, the Army says, and the efforts of a Vietnam veteran are largely credited for the medal being awarded posthumously to Spec. Leslie H. Sabo Jr. for heroic action. His platoon was ambushed by North Vietnamese forces in 1970 near the village of Se San in eastern Cambodia.
A White House description of the action says Sabo saved the lives of several of his fellow soldiers. At one point, he grabbed a nearby enemy grenade, tossed it away and shielded a wounded comrade with his body, saving his life.
“Although wounded by the grenade blast, he continued to charge the enemy’s bunker,” the White House account says. “After receiving several serious wounds from automatic weapons fire, he crawled towards the enemy emplacement and, when in position, threw a grenade into the bunker.”
He silenced the enemy, but the explosion also killed him.
Sabo’s widow, Rose Mary Sabo-Brown, and his brother, George Sabo, are expected to attend the White House ceremony.
Sabo’s medal was a long time coming. The Army says paperwork for the award was done at the time of the war by George Koziol – one of the men wounded in the battle of Se San – but that it was lost in 1970 and did not resurface for three decades.
In 1999, Alton Mabb, a 101st Airborne Division Vietnam veteran, found the original paperwork while at the National Archives researching an article for the division’s magazine. A few weeks later he asked archive personnel to send him copies of the paperwork and began the push to get Sabo recognized.
Mabb confirmed Sabo’s military records and awards using the Freedom of Information Act. He also began the three-year search for veterans of the Se San battle. He discovered that there was a three-year statute of limitations on Medal of Honor nominations that would require a congressional override.
In March 2002, Mabb took the paperwork to Rep. Corrine Brown, D-Fla., and asked her to intervene.
According to the Congressional Medal of Honor Society, the medal has been awarded 3,458 times since it was first awarded in 1863. There are fewer than 90 living recipients.
Associated Press reporter Pauline Jelinek contributed to this report from Washington.