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A day to remember and honor U.S military members who served in Vietnam War

Submitted Photo Spec. 4 Leslie Sabo

On March 29th we celebrate National Vietnam War Veterans Day, a day we remember and honor our U.S. military members who served during the Vietnam War, 1955-1975. We need to take time to say “Thank you” for their service to our country, and for the sacrifices they made for our country and for all of us.

Approximately 850,000, about one-third of the veterans who served in Vietnam, are still living today. More than 58,320 names of service men and women are engraved on the Vietnam Wall Memorial; the youngest was killed in action at age 15, the oldest at age 63. One of America’s sons whose name is on The Wall is Leslie H. Sabo Jr. He would receive the military’s highest honor 42 years after his death.

Leslie was born in Kufstein, Austria, and at age two immigrated with his parents to the United States. They lived in Youngstown, Ohio and later moved to Ellwood City, Pa. He was described as an affectionate, kind-hearted hometown boy who was easy-going and of good humor. Leslie graduated from Lincoln High School in 1966 and briefly attended Youngstown State University, dropping out to work for a steel mill. He was drafted into the Army in 1969, and was assigned to Bravo Company, 3rd Battalion, 506th Infantry Regiment, 101st Airborne Division.

In January 1970, Spec. 4 Sabo deployed to Vietnam. On May 5, 1970, his platoon was attached to the 4th Infantry Division for a secret mission into Cambodia, their ride was the UH-1 Huey helicopter. With the help of heavy air support, they were to conduct a series of missions against the Ho Chi Minh Trail. For the next five days they would encounter constant heavy combat with North Vietnamese troops, their forces often largely outnumbered. On May 10th, on mission to Se San, Cambodia, they were ambushed in the open, in what came to be known as “The Mother’s Day Ambush.”

This incredibly brave young soldier, without hesitation, repeatedly repulsed efforts by the North Vietnamese to surround and overrun the Americans. He single-handedly charged the enemy position and killed several North Vietnamese. Leslie then assaulted the enemy flanking force, drawing enemy fire away from his comrades, and forcing the enemy to retreat. When a grenade landed near a wounded American soldier in the open, Leslie left his cover, picked up the grenade and threw it; he draped himself over his wounded comrade as the grenade exploded, saving his comrade’s life. Although he incurred multiple wounds from the blast, Leslie then attacked an enemy trench and killed two North Vietnamese with a grenade before helping his wounded comrade to cover.

As the Americans were running out of ammunition, Leslie Sabo again exposed himself to enemy fire in order to retrieve ammunition from Americans who had been killed earlier that day. He began distributing this ammunition to other Americans while collecting even more ammunition from wounded and dead comrades.

As night was falling upon them, the North Vietnamese changed their focus to attacking the Huey helicopters that were carrying out the wounded. The remaining platoon of Bravo Company was able to break through the North Vietnamese lines and relieve the other two platoons while a medical chopper arrived and loaded two wounded soldiers. Once again, Leslie stepped out into the open and provided fire cover for the chopper until his ammunition was exhausted. In the process he received several serious wounds. Now mortally wounded, he crawled toward an enemy bunker and threw in a grenade. The explosion from the grenade silenced the bunker at the cost of Leslie’s life.

Spec. 4 Sabo was nominated for the Medal of Honor shortly after his death, but the records were lost. A fellow veteran of the 101st Airborne came across those records 29 years later and began the process to re-open Leslie Sabo’s nomination. After several delays and another 13 years, Leslie was posthumously awarded the highest military decoration.

On May 16, 2012, 42 years after his death, President Barack Obama presented Leslie’s Medal of Honor to his widow. The Official Citation read in part: “His indomitable courage and complete disregard for his own safety saved the lives of many of his platoon members. Spec. 4 Sabo’s extraordinary heroism and selflessness, above and beyond the call of duty, at the cost of his life, are in keeping with the highest traditions of military service.”

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