WASHINGTON (Reuters) - President Barack Obama on Wednesday hailed a fallen Vietnam War soldier who saved his members of his platoon by awarding him the Medal of Honor 42 years after his death.
The sacrifice of Specialist Leslie Sabo Jr., 22, might not have been acknowledged if someone had not found the misplaced paperwork recommending him for the medal - the nation’s highest military award for valor - more than a dozen years ago.
In a solemn ceremony at the White House, attended by family, friends and Vietnam War veterans, Obama recounted the day that Sabo, the son of Hungarian refugees who settled in Ellwood City, Pennsylvania, was killed.
On May 10, 1970, North Vietnamese forces in the Cambodian jungle ambushed Sabo and his platoon. In the battle that ensued, the young rifleman saved the life of a comrade by throwing away an enemy grenade that landed in a field near them.
He then charged the enemy bunker, suffering injuries on the way. Once close, he pulled out his own grenade.
“It’s said he held that grenade and didn’t throw it until the last possible moment, knowing it would take his own life, but knowing he could silence that bunker,” Obama said. “And he did. He saved his comrades, who meant more to him than life.”
Sabo’s nomination for the Medal of Honor had been misplaced and was found in 1999 by Tony Mabb, a Vietnam veteran and researcher, at the National Archives.
“Today, four decades after Sabo’s sacrifice, we set the record straight,” Obama said.
The president also honored the seven other soldiers killed that day, as well as Sabo’s own Bravo Company, some of whose members were in the audience Wednesday.
“No words will ever be truly worthy of their service and no honor can ever fully repay their sacrifice,” Obama said. “But on days such as this we can pay tribute. We can express our gratitude.”
The president has conferred nine Medal of Honor awards since taking office in 2009. More than 3,400 have been awarded since its inception in 1862.
Reporting By Samson Reiny; Editing by Bill Trott