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Soldier to receive posthumous Medal of Honor for heroic actions in 1970 Cambodia battle

The U.S. Army Specialist will posthumously receive the award for his actions in the Vietnam War in 1970. NBC's Brian Williams reports.

A soldier who repeatedly charged at North Vietnamese forces during an ambush in Cambodia, forcing a retreat, will be posthumously awarded the Medal of Honor, the White House announced on Monday.

It was May 10, Mothers Day in 1970, when Army Spc. Leslie Sabo Jr. was in a platoon pursuing North Vietnamese forces in the Se San River valley in Cambodia. When a larger force ambushed the platoon, Sabo immediately launched an attack at the enemy and killed several soldiers.

Then, according to the White House, Sabo rushed at another oncoming flanking force and drew fire away from American troops. The North Vietnamese had to retreat.

As he was re-supplying ammunition, a grenade landed nearby. Sabo picked it up, threw it and shielded a fellow soldier with his own body. Wounded from the blast and enemy fire, he continued to fight, storming an enemy emplacement and throwing another grenade. The grenade explosion silenced the enemy, but also ended Sabo’s life, the White House said.

“His indomitable courage and complete disregard for his own safety saved the lives of many of his platoon members,” a news release from the White House said.

According to his hometown newspaper, the Ellwood City Ledger in Pennsylvania, Sabo’s body was shipped home in a body bag marked “Remains Unfit for Viewing.” His father and namesake died seven years later without knowing the precise circumstances of his son’s death.

President Obama will present the Medal of Honor, the military's highest award for combat valor, to Sabo's family on May 16 at the White House. Sabo’s widow, Rose Sabo-Brown, and his brother, George Sabo, will attend the ceremony.

"It's a tremendous legacy to leave to our grandkids and let them know that sacrifices all these guys made," George Sabo told the Ledger.

According to the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, the records of Sabo's heroics, along with a citation recommending him for the Medal of Honor, were lost in military bureaucracy. The records re-emerged in 1999 when a writer for a military association magazine was researching Vietnam-era Medal of Honor winners at the National Archives.

The writer, Alton "Tony" Mabb, contacted Sabo's widow and met with her and other members of his platoon at the Vietnam Veteran's War Memorial in Washington, D.C. in 2002, the Post-Gazette reported. Mabb also contacted U.S. Rep. Corrine Brown, who wrote the Defense Department requesting that Sabo's actions be recognized. In 2006, Sabo was recommended for the Medal of Honor by the secretary of the Army.

Still, it took an act of Congress to extend the time limits for the medal. The extension was included in the 2008 defense authorization bill.

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