Tuesday, February 05, 2008

An American Hero: Sgt Leslie H. Sabo, Jr.

Leslie Halasz Sabo, Jr., was born on February 23, 1948, in Austria. In 1950, his father, who had been a government official in Hungary, decided to move his family to the United States. They eventually ended up in Ellwood City, Lawrence County, Pennsylvania. Leslie, Jr., graduated from Lincoln High School in Ellwood City in 1966. He went to college for awhile, but then quit to work at a steel mill.

Leslie Sabo was drafted in April, 1969, and he soon found himself in the Army.

He went to basic training and then advanced training at Fort Benning, Georgia. The Ellwood City Ledger reported in 2007 that Sabo took a brief leave in September, 1969, to return home and marry Rose Mary Buccelli. They later had a month together at the end of his training.

Sabo was assigned to Company B, 3rd Battalion, 506th Infantry, 101st Airborne Division. The 101st is a highly decorated, much celebrated Army division. Its 506th Regiment is likewise a well-storied unit. Its Company E was the subject of the book and television motion picture, Band of Brothers. And the title character in the motion picture, Saving Private Ryan, was a [fictional] member of the 506th.

In November, 1969, Sabo, then a Specialist 4 [a rank now denominated simply "Specialist," equivalent in pay to a corporal], met up with the rest of the 506th in Vietnam. They soon would be assigned to Operation Binh Tay I, part of the so-called Cambodian Incursion of 1970. It would be on May 10, 1970, that Leslie H. Sabo, Jr., would make the ultimate sacrifice.

The official report of what happened that day is straightforward, but incomplete. Sabo's Bravo Company had moved into Cambodia on May 5, 1970, from Pleiku, South Viet Nam. Their mission was to "find, fix, destroy and capture enemy personnel . . . ." Over the several days, Bravo Company took some small arms fire, but without significant casualties.

In the morning on May 10, 1970, Sabo's company found enemy locations along with Chinese-made weapons. Throughout the rest of the day, the U.S. troops continued to find significant enemy stores, supplies, and weapons. At one complex, they also found an abandoned hospital with150 chickens, 50 pigs, and 20 dogs. Shortly after 11:00 am, Bravo Company again was engaged in a firefight with the enemy; there were no casualties on either side.

Apparently, nothing else of significance happened until about four hours later. The official report gives this account of how Leslie H. Sabo, Jr., died:

At 1515H (3:15 pm) . . . [Bravo Company] was engaged by an unknown size VC/NVA [Viet Cong/North Vietnamese Army] resulting in 8 US KIA, 28 US WIA [wounded in action] with enemy losses unknown.
Combat Operation After Action Report, Binh Tay I (Pacify West I), Cambodia, HQ 3rd Battalion (Airmobile), 506th Infantry, 101st Airborne Division (Airmobile), APO San Francisco 96278.

Not surprisingly, Sabo's friends and family got conflicting stories on exactly how he died and nothing about his heroism in the battle.

In 2007, Sabo's friend George Koziol, who had been in another Bravo Company platoon, gave an account of the battle to the Ellwood City Ledger:

Koziol said the company had reached another clearing in the jungle when they were ambushed by a larger enemy force which had trapped the Americans in a three-sided pocket. Sabo's platoon was to the rear as the enemy attempted to encircle all of the U.S. troops. Sabo returned fire and used grenades against the enemy, which kept the U.S. troops from being encircled.

According to Koziol, Sabo spotted a wounded comrade about 30 yards away. Koziol said Sabo ran through enemy fire, reached the injured soldier, and began to give him first aid. At this point, enemy grenades were thrown at Sabo and the injured man. Koziol said that Sabo threw himself on top of his injured comrade thus shielding him from the explosion.

Koziol told the newspaper that the grenades apparently injured Sabo, but he lobbed a grenade at the enemy position, killing two of them.

Koziol said that Sabo ran through enemy fire again to strip ammunition belts from other fallen soldiers and tossed one to Koziol and another to another soldier. From that point, it was a life-or-death fight in which Sabo held the pocket open, allowing reinforcements and supplies to reach Bravo Company.

Koziol said he himself had been severely wounded by a greande, and he and another soldier were to be evacuated by helicopter, some seven hours after the ambush. As the helicopter arrived, it was attacked by the enemy. Koziol said Sabo came out from cover and fired back, giving the rescuers time to grab Koziol and the other wounded soldier.

The enemy fired at Sabo and Koziol said, "I saw him when he dropped his rifle, dropped to his knees and fell face first into the dirt."

Spec. 4 Sabo was promoted posthumously to sergeant.

It is said that Sabo was recommended for the Medal of Honor, but "the paperwork got lost." In 2002, another 101st veteran, Alton Mabb came across Sabo's records at the National Archives. MAbb took up the cause to get Sabo the Medal of Honor. He eventually found another eyewitness to the acts that Koziol described. Mabb took this information to Congresswoman, Rep. Corrine Brown of Florida, who shepherded the application through the Department of Defense and then Congress.

In May of 2006, the Secretary of the Army recommended Leslie H. Sabo, Jr. for the Medal of Honor. In 2007, legislation was introduced in Congress to authorize the award of the Medal to him, notwithstanding the three year statute of limitations, which has long ago run. That legislation passed Congress and was signed by the President on January 28, 2008.

Leslie H. Sabo, Jr.'s father passed away sometime ago and his mother is in a care facility. But his brother George Sabo and his widow, Rose Mary, and many friends from high school and the Army no doubt are looking forward to traveling to Washington to accept the Medal later this year at the White House, on behalf of Sgt Leslie H. Sabo, Jr.

Links Concerning Leslie H. Sabo, Jr.:

The Virtual Wall (memorial)

An Act of Courage - Ellwood City Ledger, 8 April 2007


Anonymous said...

Craig, thank you for spotlighting these stories. These men are great heroes and deserve our highest honors. My thanks also goes to the people who kept their stories alive and continued the fight to insure those honors were awarded.

Anonymous said...

My name is Rose Mary Sabo Brown. The article you posted is about my husband. I just wanted let you know that this article was wonderful. Thank you so much for recognizing his story. I am anxiously awaiting for him to be awarded the Medal of Honor. He so deserves it. I am so proud of him.

Anonymous said...

My name is Kathleen E. Starkey. I am Rose Mary Sabo Brown's sister. I was introduced to Leslie when I was 12 yrs. old, in which we immediately connected and became fast friends. I loved him like a brother, and he was always there for me when I needed someone to talk to.
A few years later I was asked by my sister and him to be in their wedding. Even though I was just a kid, I felt honored to be apart of something very special. The love that was between them was so real, it made we want to have someone that special in my life too.
The day we found out our beloved Leslie was taken from us, left a hole in all our hearts. We never really knew exactly what happened to him in that foreign country and imaginations all ran wild. When we finally found out the truth about how he died, it gave us closure.
Incidently, we weren't surprised to find that he died a hero, he was all of our heroes to begin with.
I know in my heart he is in heaven with our Lord Jesus Christ simply because he gave the ultimate gift, his life for his comrades.
He deserves this Medal of Honor, not only for what he did in Vietnam, but for who he was in everyone's life.
I will always love and miss him. Till we meet again in heaven,
your little sister,

Anonymous said...

My name is Rick Brown and I was with Leslie Sabo that day in Cambodia May10,1970.The day before I had my 19th birthday and so I was very young.There is not a day since that I have not thought of Les Sabo and the other seven men we lost that day.I am writing this because Les and the rest we lost made it possible that I am here.On Jan 24,2008 I lost my best friend George Koziol to cancer who fought so hard to see that Les Sabo received the Medal of Honor.George was a witness to what Les did and was severely wounded as well.Les Sabo was in the 2nd Platoon and I was in the 3rd Platoon.Les was a man that gave up his life to protect us on that battlefield that day.Les Sabo will always be remember by his Brothers from Bravo Co 3/506 101st Abn