Medal of Honor for Vietnam War Heroism
President Barack Obama posthumously awarded the Medal of Honor to Specialist 4 Leslie H. Sabo Jr. in a May 16, 2012, White House ceremony. Sabo’s widow, Rose Mary Sabo-Brown (née Buccelli), accepted the medal on his behalf. Veterans from Sabo’s Vietnam War platoon were also in attendance, including former Captain Jim Waybright, Sabo’s company commander with Company B, 3d Battalion, 506th Infantry Regiment, 101st Airborne Division.
On May 10, 1970, Company B was in Cambodia on a secret mission to prevent North Vietnamese Army (NVA) forces from staging attacks into Vietnam. As the company’s Soldiers traveled down a path, with two platoons forward and one in reserve, an NVA battalion ambushed the unit.
“I think the first reaction was, people were sort of freezing,” Waybright recalled. “And then we quickly shouted out – several of us – to return fire. [The NVA] dug in on one side and [to] the rear of us, and the enemy was quickly closing in.” Waybright and his men began calling for air support almost immediately, as the Soldiers were greatly outnumbered.
As the NVA troops pressed their attack, Specialist Sabo sprung into action, charging the enemy position and killing several opponents. He then assaulted the flanking force, drawing fire away from his unit and forcing the enemy to retreat. When a grenade landed near a wounded buddy, Sabo picked it up, threw it and then shielded the Soldier with his body, thus taking the brunt of the explosion.
“At times [Sabo] actually moved toward the enemy,” Waybright remembered,“and it saved that side of the perimeter.”
Sabo, with his body full of shrapnel from the grenade explosion, then charged an enemy bunker, in the process sustaining serious wounds from automatic weapons fire. Despite his injuries, he pressed on toward the emplacement and threw a grenade into the bunker, sacrificing his life to stop the enemy fire.
Leslie Sabo was born László Halász Szabó in 1948 in Kufstein, Austria, where his parents had fled after Communists took over their home country of Hungary following World War II. He and his family immigrated to the United States in 1950. His initial Medal of Honor recommendation was submitted in 1970 but was somehow lost. The recommendation was discovered in the National Archives decades later and was finally processed through official channels and approved.
– From an article by Jacqueline M. Hames, “Soldiers Magazine.”
Marine Posthumously Awarded Navy Cross
On August 10, 2012, Sergeant Matthew Abbate was posthumously awarded the Navy Cross, the nation’s second-highest valor decoration, during a ceremony at the 3d Battalion, 5th Marines Parade Deck at Camp Pendleton, Calif.
Almost two years prior, on October 14, 2010, Abbate’s Quick Reaction Force team came under fire during a dismounted patrol through Sangin, Afghanistan’s northern green zone. The patrol was ambushed in a minefield by insurgents who were in several well-prepared positions.
After Abbate’s team received fire, the patrol members moved to cover when two Marines and a Corpsman struck improvised explosive devices in quick succession. With the patrol leader incapacitated and three men severely injured, Abate took charge of the situation and with total disregard for his own life sprinted through the unswept minefield to rally the dazed team members.
While still exposed, Abbate directed the fire of the remaining squad members until they effectively suppressed the enemy and could give lifesaving aid to the urgent casualties. After coordinating the medical evacuation, Abbate then swept the landing zone with a mine detector for additional explosives, clearing it for the helicopter, before the patrol was again forced to take cover from enemy fire.
Knowing the survival of the casualties depended on the speed of their evacuation, Abbate again rallied the patrol’s able men and led a counteroffensive to clear the insurgents from the landing zone, thus allowing the critically wounded to be evacuated.
Tragically, on December 2, 2010, Abbate was killed in action in Helmand province, Afghanistan.“Sergeant Matthew Abbate wasn’t just our section leader, he was our mentor, our friend and our brother,” said Sergeant Royce R. Hughie.“He excelled at everything he did, from being a man, a father and a warrior. As a warrior Matt was courageous, inspiring and dedicated.”
– From an article by Lance Corporal Timothy Childers, 15th MEU.
New Visitor Center for Cambridge American Cemetery
To help tell the story of the nearly 9,000 members of the U.S. armed forces buried or memorialized at Cambridge American Cemetery in England, construction of a new visitor center began August 13, 2012. The American Battle Monuments Commission (ABMC) expects to open the facility in late 2013. The 4,000- square-foot center will honor the courage and sacrifice of the men and women who participated in the Battle of the Atlantic, the Strategic Air Campaign, and the buildup to the D-Day Normandy invasion. Through interpretive exhibits that incorporate personal histories, photographs, films, and interactive displays, visitors will gain a better understanding of the British-American partnership that won Allied victory in Europe during World War II.
“Our commemorative sites have long been respected as beautiful memorial tributes to Americans that gave their lives during the World Wars,” said ABMC secretary Max Cleland. “We also have a duty to preserve for future generations the stories of the brave men and women who died defending the soil where they now rest. This new visitor center will allow us to do just that.”
The $4.37 million Cambridge facility is the first of three ABMC visitor center projects set to begin construction in 2012. A small visitor center at the Pointe du Hoc Ranger Monument in Normandy, France, will be expanded and renovated, and a new center will be built at the Sicily-Rome American Cemetery in Nettuno, Italy.
Established by Congress in 1923, the American Battle Monuments Commission commemorates the service, achievements and sacrifice of U.S. armed forces. ABMC administers 24 overseas military cemeteries and 25 memorials, monuments and markers. For more information, visit abmc.gov.
Join the Fight to Save Our History
At ACG, we can think of no better way to commemorate the American Civil War’s 150th anniversary years (2011-15) than to “join the fight” to save our history. Thus we urge readers to “enlist” in the “army” of concerned citizens who are members of the Civil War Trust, America’s largest non-profit organization devoted to the preservation of our nation’s endangered Civil War battlefields. The Trust also promotes educational programs and heritage tourism initiatives to inform the public of the war’s history and the fundamental issues that sparked the conflict.
Under the leadership of president Jim Lighthizer (who is also a member of the ACG advisory board), the Civil War Trust is at the forefront of efforts to prevent uncontrolled “development” and other threats from destroying the sites related to the conflict that redefined the United States in the mid-19th century. Lighthizer said the organization “remains committed to preserving the memory of the Civil War by preserving the very ground where this great struggle was played out.”
To date, the Trust has worked to save and preserve more than 35,000 acres at 110 battlefields in 20 states. The list of preserved battlefields reads like an honor roll of Civil War combat and includes the sites of two key Mississippi battles in General Ulysses S. Grant’s 1863 Vicksburg campaign: Raymond and Champion Hill.
To become a member of the Civil War Trust, visit civil war.org/take-action/ membership/. Membership benefits include a free annual subscription to the organization’s award-winning quarterly magazine, Hallowed Ground, which features articles by renowned Civil War historians as well as the latest news on preservation activities.
The Man Without a Gun
One of the most powerful pieces of combat art ever produced, Lawrence Beall Smith’s 1944 painting The Man Without a Gun , is a stirring portrayal of a medic in Normandy. As an Artist War Correspondent for Abbott Laboratories, Smith was responsible for documenting the Medical Corps in the European Theater. He was initially assigned to England to gather material for paintings on medical activities at air bases. Though Smith was scheduled to finish his tour prior to the Normandy invasion, he volunteered to stay and participate.
Eventually deciding to focus on subject matter that was characteristic of the experience as well as visually striking, Smith chose a typical aid man for the subject of this painting. He was particularly impressed with medics, describing them as “an extremely heroic lot. … All were haggard, and very tired. They seemed like young old men; they had a kind of haunted look.”
Indeed, the young man in Smith’s painting looks dead on his feet. His clothing is ragged and his face is haggard as he gazes in the viewer’s general direction, too tired to see what is in front of him and too haunted by what he has seen to close his eyes. The medic’s exhaustion is further highlighted by his placement next to the “Salvage Pile” of discarded shoes and gear of the Soldiers he was unable to save.
Smith described the medic as being the “paradox of war, for his mission is to save life, not to destroy it.” He highlighted this irony in the painting through the use of the color red, which appears only on the blood-soaked bandages and on the red cross intended to protect the medic from enemy fire.
The painting’s title, The Man Without a Gun, draws the viewer’s attention to the noncombatant status of the subject. It labels the medic as an unsung hero who risked enemy fire to save others without regard for his own safety.
All art produced as part of the Abbott Laboratories Medical series became property of the Department of Defense. This piece, along with the rest of the art related to the Army Medical Corps, is part of the Army Art Collection, which is preserved at the Army’s Museum Support Center at Fort Belvoir, Va.
– Submitted by Colonel (Ret.) Robert Dalessandro and Sarah Forgey, Art Curator, U.S. Army Center of Military History.
For information about the National Museum of the U.S. Army, slated to open in 2015, visit armyhistory.org
Originally published in the March 2013 issue of Armchair General.