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Four Decades After Dying In Cambodia, Soldier Receives Medal Of Honor

Army Specialist Leslie H. Sabo Jr. will posthumously receive the Medal of Honor at a White House ceremony.
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Army Specialist Leslie H. Sabo Jr. will posthumously receive the Medal of Honor at a White House ceremony.

President Barack Obama awarded a posthumous Medal of Honor today to Spec. Leslie H. Sabo Jr., a Pennsylvania rifleman killed after sacrificing his body to grenade fire in Vietnam during 1970's "Mother's Day Ambush".

A Defense Department description of Sabo's heroic actions says the 22-year old saved the lives of several other soldiers. He charged enemy positions and killed several North Vietnamese fighters while drawing fire away from his unit.

Later, when a grenade was tossed near a wounded fellow soldier, Sabo used his body to shield his comrade from the blast. Wounded from fire, Sabo then crawled towards an enemy bunker and dropped a grenade that "silenced the enemy fire, but also ended Specialist Sabo's life."

The Associated Press explains the four decade delay in recognizing Sabo's actions:

"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."

President Obama will present the medal to Sabo's widow, Rose Mary Brown, and brother, George Sabo.

Update at 4:01 p.m. ET. Medal Presented:

CBS White House Correspondent Mark Knoller tweeted from the ceremony that the 1970 Medal of Honor proposal for Sabo was only found in archives in 1999. On the Vietnam War, Obama said it's "to our shame" our troops did not receive the gratitude they deserved.

Copyright 2021 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.

Elise Hu is a host-at-large based at NPR West in Culver City, Calif. Previously, she explored the future with her video series, Future You with Elise Hu, and served as the founding bureau chief and International Correspondent for NPR's Seoul office. She was based in Seoul for nearly four years, responsible for the network's coverage of both Koreas and Japan, and filed from a dozen countries across Asia.

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