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President Awards Posthumous Medal of Honor to Vietnam-era Soldier

Written By Karen Parrish
American Forces Press Service

WASHINGTON, DC — President Barack Obama paid tribute today to a man who died defending his fellow soldiers 42 years and six days ago, and who the commander-in-chief said represents a generation’s honorable and undervalued service.

During a White House ceremony, the president awarded a posthumous Medal of Honor for conspicuous gallantry, recognizing Army Spc. 4 Leslie H. Sabo Jr., a rifleman with the 101st Airborne Division who was killed in eastern Cambodia during the Vietnam War. Sabo’s widow, Rose Mary Sabo-Brown, accepted the award. His brother, George Sabo, also attended the ceremony.

Sabo is credited with saving the lives of several of his comrades in Company B, 3rd Battalion, 506th Infantry, when his platoon was ambushed near the Se San River in eastern Cambodia on May 10, 1970. Sabo shielded a comrade from an enemy grenade and silenced a machine-gun bunker before he was killed.

“Some 50 American soldiers were nearly surrounded by some 100 North Vietnamese fighters,” the president said, adding that other soldiers there that day remembered the enemy as “everywhere – behind trees [and] up in the tress, shooting down.”

Obama said, “Les was in the rear, and he could have stayed there. But those fighters were unloading on his brothers.”

The president described Sabo’s last moments: “Despite his wounds, despite the danger, Leslie did something extraordinary. He began to crawl straight toward an enemy bunker with machine guns blazing. … [he] kept crawling, closer to that bunker, even as bullets hit the ground all around him. Then he grabbed a grenade, and he pulled the pin.”

Sabo’s fellow troops have said he held the grenade as long as he could, “knowing it would take his own life, but knowing he could silence that bunker,” Obama said. “And he did.”

The day he died, Sabo was 22 years old, part of a campaign in Cambodia aimed at preventing North Vietnamese forces from launching Attacks into Vietnam from there. The Army told his Hungarian immigrant parents, his brother, and his bride of eight months — all waiting for his return to Pennsylvania — that he had been killed by an enemy sniper while on guard duty.

“Leslie Sabo left behind a wife who adored him, a brother who loved him, and parents who cherished him,” the president said. “But for decades, they never knew that Les had died a hero … this story was almost lost to history.”

Though Sabo’s leaders recommended him for the Medal of Honor after that day’s fighting, the paperwork was never processed, Obama noted. Instead, another 101st Vietnam veteran, Alton “Tony” Mabb, discovered the award packet in 1999, during a visit to the National Archives.

Mabb sought to find answers, Obama said, and the result is that “Today, four decades after Leslie’s sacrifice, we can set the record straight.”

And this month, he noted, the nation will begin to mark the 50th anniversary of the Vietnam War.

The end of that war, the president said, was “a time when, to our shame, our veterans did not always receive the respect and the thanks they deserved — a mistake that must never be repeated.”

Vietnam veterans returning from war were called many things, Obama said, but there was “only one thing they deserved to be called: American patriots.”

The commander-in-chief then called for Sabo’s comrades from Bravo Company to stand and be recognized. A group of mostly suited, largely gray-haired, middle-aged men rose in response.  The audience –- including First Lady Michelle Obama, Secretary of Defense Leon E. Panetta and several military service leaders, senators, representatives and friends of the Sabo family – then stood in a prolonged ovation for the veterans.

Obama said Sabo’s medal was “bestowed on a single soldier for his singular courage, but it speaks to the service of an entire generation.”

The president said the families of those who serve also sacrifice.

“We see the patriotism of our families who give our nation a piece of their heart,” he said. “On days such as this, we can pay tribute.”

Obama stood with his arm around Rose as they listened to the reading of the citation, and kissed her cheek after presenting her with the framed medal.

The nation’s highest military honor, the Medal of Honor is awarded for risk of life in combat beyond the call of duty. Sabo’s medal is the 247th awarded, and the 155th presented posthumously, for action during the Vietnam War.

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About Posted by Susan Bainbridge

At age 6, Susan was destined to be a journalist and photographer. In 1980, Susan founded Bainbridge News and The Bainbridge Chronicle Newspaper. Bainbridge News specializes in Military and National Politics, including Military Funerals and Burials and Political Funerals and Burials. Susan has covered the White House, the Pentagon and Capitol Hill. She has covered every president from Ronald Reagan to Barack Obama. Recognized for her versatility, Susan has also covered finance, crime, civil rights events, marches, sports, musical events and more. In 1990, she established Bainbridge Photography, an On-Location photography company. In addition to military and political events, including Military and Political funerals and burials, Bainbridge Photography expanded into covering ALL funerals and burials, receptions, weddings, real estate, inventory, insurance, portrait, head shot, pets, fire and Hazmat. Miss Bainbridge believes in going the extra mile. "My Clients always come first." In 1980, Susan began her career in Washington, D.C., working for WMZQ Radio as a reporter and guest hostess from 1980 to 1985. Intrigued by radio, Susan wanted to write, freelancing for radio, television and print newspapers, including AP, The Washington Post, The Washington Times, The Northern Virginia Sun, The Press-Republicanand The Bainbridge Chronicle (established by Susan Bainbridge). In 1986, Susan worked at WDCA-TV Channel 20 as a guest hostess for "Eye On Washington." From 1990 to 1994, Susan reported and anchored for "The Arlington Weekly News." Additionally, she produced a segment for the G. Gordon Liddy Radio Show. A prolific writer, while in high school in 1977, Bainbridge wrote an episode for NBC's "Little House on The Prairie" entitled "Laura's Best Friend." Though the show's producers did not use the script then, NBC producers encouraged Susan to pursue a writing and journalism career. Susan is a member of the National Press Club, the National Press Photographer's Association and the Society of Professional Journalists. Susan Bainbridge's recognitions include from former Presidents Ronald Reagan, George Herbert Walker Bush and Bill Clinton, former First Lady Nancy Reagan, former British Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher, the late actor Lorne Greene, among many others. BAINBRIDGE NEWS was founded in 1980 by Susan Bainbridge (a sixth generation writer), a third generation journalist, a first generation photographer and a fourth generation entrepreneur. She is the first generation to establish a news business. Bainbridge News is dedicated in honor of Miss Bainbridge's late grandfather and idol, Mark S. Watson (The Baltimore Sun editor and war correspondent from 1920 to his death in 1966).

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