It took more than 40 years, but Leslie Sabo, Jr. has finally been awarded the Medal of Honor.
Sabo, who served in the 101st Airborne Division, was awarded the Medal of Honor posthumously on May 16, 2012 for his courageous actions on May 10, 1970 in Vietnam. Sabo's unit originally put in the paperwork shortly after his death, but the documents became lost until Alton Mabb, another 101st Airborne veteran, discovered them at the National Archives while researching an article for the division's magazine.
The Sabos — father Leslie, Sr., mother Elizabeth and brother George — were an upper-class Hungarian family who escaped to Austria when the Iron Curtain took hold in 1948. Shortly thereafter, on Feb. 22, Leslie, Jr. was born. Realizing that communism was to remain, they decided to emigrate to the United States in 1950, shortly after Sabo's second birthday.
Sabos's father practiced law in Hungary, but when the family moved to the United States, he had to find another career. At 43, Sabo's father went to night school to become an engineer. The family first moved to Youngstown, Ohio but finally settled in Ellwood City, Pa. where Sabo grew up.
Sabo's father was proud of their newly adopted country, so he stressed discipline and patriotism at home. He taught his sons that they had a duty to the United States.
His brother George remembers that Sabo was goofy and a joker. He enjoyed bowling and shooting pool. He was also an all round good kid.
"He just never gave my parents any trouble," Sabo's brother said. "He always did the right thing. Not that he was a saint, but he just never got into any kind of real trouble."
Sabo graduated from Lincoln High School in 1966 and briefly attended Youngstown State University. After a year, he dropped out and worked at a steel mill before being drafted into the Army in 1969.
Sabo went to Basic Combat Training at Fort Benning, Ga. and then to Advanced Individual Training in September 1969. Sabo's wedding to Rose Buccelli was supposed to be in September, so the Army granted him a day of leave for it. They, however, weren't able to go on the honeymoon until after he completed AIT.
Sabo was assigned to Bravo Company, 3rd Battalion, 506th Infantry Regiment, 101st Airborne Division and deployed to Vietnam with his unit in January 1970. Sabo's brother recalled that he actually like the army.
"Even as a (private first class), he liked the discipline, he liked the camaraderie," he said.
Sabo wrote regularly to his wife. His unit came into contact with North Vietnamese troops often, but most of the skirmishes were small hit-and-run attacks.
On May 5, 1970, Sabo's platoon was attached to 4th Infantry Division for a secret mission in Cambodia. They were to conduct interdiction missions against the Ho Chi Minh Trail with the assistance of heavy air support, and for five days Sabo's unit was repeatedly attacked by North Vietnamese forces with superior numbers.
On May 10, 1970, Sabo and his platoon were conducting a reconnaissance patrol in Cambodia, when a large enemy force ambushed them on all sides. Sabo immediately charged the enemy and killed several soldiers and then he attacked the enemy in the opposite direction causing the enemy to retreat.
Out of ammunition, Sabo ran across an open field to a wounded comrade to re-supply his ammo. As he was reloading his rifle, a grenade landed near their position. Without hesitation, Sabo picked up the grenade, threw it, and protected his fellow soldier with his own body, absorbing the brunt of the explosion. Sabo was wounded, but he recollected himself and continued fighting.
Sabo then single-handedly charged an enemy bunker that had inflicted severe damage on the platoon. Automatic weapons fire inflicted many serious wounds to Sabo, but he continued forward, even when he was only able to crawl. Eventually, he was close enough to the bunker, that he was able to throw a grenade into it. The grenade silenced the enemy machine gun fire, but it also killed Sabo.
Sabo's heroism and selflessness helped to save the lives of many of his comrades. His brother was not surprised by his heroic sacrifice.
"He was the least selfish, (least) self-centered person I've ever known," he said. "So his ability to overcome fear … (and) stand (his) ground and try to fight to keep the rest of the guys safe doesn't surprise me."