Army Spc. 4 Leslie Sabo Awarded Medal of Honor Posthumously
Leslie H. Sabo Jr., the nation’s newest Medal of Honor recipient, died in a Cambodian jungle on May 10, 1970, after a daylong battle in which he tried to save his fellow soldiers during a North Vietnamese ambush. The 22-yearold rifleman from Elwood City, Pa., distributed ammunition while under attack and threw himself onto a wounded comrade to shield him from a grenade blast. He then charged the enemy position, drawing fire away from his unit, killing several North Vietnamese soldiers and causing others to retreat. He got close enough to take out a bunker with a grenade, but the resulting blast killed him. The “Mother’s Day ambush” killed seven of Sabo’s 101st Airborne Division men.
President Barack Obama presented the Medal of Honor to Sabo’s widow, Rose Mary Sabo-Brown, in a White House ceremony on May 16, also attended by his brother, George Sabo, and about 50 men from his unit, Bravo Company, 3rd Battalion, 506th Infantry Regiment. For years, many Bravo veterans had pushed for Sabo to be recognized. According to HispanicBusiness.com, one of Sabo’s fellow soldiers, who has since died, recommended him for the Medal of Honor shortly after the engagement, but the recommendation and the description of what Sabo did were lost. In 1999 Alton “Tony” Mabb, a Vietnam veteran of the 101st Airborne and writer for the division’s magazine, came across Sabo’s records at the National Archives while doing research on Vietnam War Medal of Honor recipients. Mabb contacted his Congresswoman, Corrine Brown, D-Fla., and started the process for Sabo’s recognition, which took 13 years to obtain.
“I couldn’t be more proud,” SaboBrown said in an interview with the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette.“I’m more happy that he’s getting it for all the guys.”
According to the Medal of Honor Society, of the approximately 2.1 million troops who served in Vietnam, 246 earned the Medal of Honor, 154 posthumously.
50th Anniversary Gets Memorial Day Kickoff
The Department of Defense 50th Anniversary Commemoration of the Vietnam War was slated to get its official kickoff at the annual Memorial Day ceremony held at the Vietnam Veterans Memorial in Washington D.C. The decade-long commemoration is under the direction of retired Army Lt. Gen. Claude “Mick” Kicklighter, a Vietnam War veteran who emphasizes that the effort will be grassroots in nature. Kicklighter said Memorial Day was to be the first day of a nationwide drive to recruit 7,500 community partners toparticipateinthecommemorationby2015.
Coming Soon: Lyndon the Destroyer
The third guided missile destroyer of the new 15,000-ton Zumwalt class will be named for Lyndon Baines Johnson, Secretary of the Navy Ray Mabus announced on April 16. The controversial commander in chief during the Vietnam War was a Texas representative when he became the first congressman to enlist in the Navy after the attack on Pearl Harbor. “His dedication to a life of public service included bravely stepping forward to fight for his country during our entry into WWII,” Mabussaid.The 34th ship named for a president, USS Lyndon B. Johnson is under construction at Bath Iron Works in Maine, projected for delivery in 2018.
Play Plots Pro-War Columnist’s Fall
Anew production on Broadway, The Columnist examines the life of famed Cold War–era journalist Joseph Alsop (1910-89), whose op-ed column “Matter of Fact” ran in hundreds of newspapers for nearly 40 years and whose influence in Washington was legendary. Starring John Lithgow as Alsop, the play opens with a secret that Alsop tried to protect his whole life—a 1957 tryst he had in Moscow with another man who turned out to be a KGB spy. The Soviets had taken photos, but the staunch anti-Communist went to the U.S. Embassy to report the scheme. The play jumps four years ahead to his friend President John Kennedy’s inauguration day, when the president stops by Alsop’s Georgetown home for a nightcap, following the round of inaugural balls.
Pulitzer Prize–winning playwright David Auburn said he became interested in Alsop when he was researching the Vietnam War. “The name Joe Alsop pops up in histories of the war,”he told The Wall Street Journal. “He’s now so obscure, I got interested in the question of how do you go from being a central, authoritative voice to being almost forgotten?”
The answer is that Alsop’s hawkish stance on Vietnam and his heavy-handed influence on presidents tarnished his image among colleagues. “He counseled presidents, whether they liked it or not— for decades,” wrote AP drama critic Mark Kennedy. Alsop’s nemesis, reporter David Halberstam (played by Stephen Krunken), who covered Vietnam for The New York Times, said that Alsop would drop by the U.S. Embassy in Saigon to be chauffeured around by Army helicopters and confer with top military and diplomatic brass over fine wine and French fare. Inevitably Alsop would report, said Halberstam, that “the war was proceeding swimmingly, save for a few…Communist sympathizers among the American press corps there.”
The play, which opened in April for a two-month run at the Samuel J. Friedman Theatre, features Boyd Gains as journalist Stewart Alsop, Joseph’s brother, with whom he cowrote “Matter of Fact” from 1945-58.
Alsop’s most oft-cited comment on the war appeared in his Sept. 13, 1965, column: “At last there is light at the end of the tunnel.” Alsop was predicting that the United States, whose troops “already number more than 100,000…likely to reach 200,000,” would eventually defeat Ho Chi Minh’s troops, unlike France, which lost because the troops fought “with grossly insufficient resources.”
According to the Times, at one point during the war LBJ was reported to have commented, when he decided to deploy another 50,000 troops,“There, that should keep Joe Alsop quiet for a while.”
Dogs Trained to Heal
It’s no secret that the friendly, unconditional love from a dog is its best quality, and when it comes to soldiers injured physically and emotionally from war, dogs can become lifesavers. According to The New York Times, Congress has ordered the Department of Veterans Affairs to study the effectiveness of service dogs for PTSD sufferers. Some lawmakers want to require the government to help finance training, which can cost more than $15,000 a dog.
Several service dog organizations have sprung up across the country to train and provide dogs to injured veterans at no or little cost. One man, Irwin Stovroff, 89, a WWII veteran and POW, started a charity calledVetsHelpingHeroesin2007, when he found out that the government had no program to match injured soldiers with service dogs. Since then Stovroff has raised $3 million to supply vets with seeing-eye and therapy dogs.
Vets Helping Heroes has supplied a dog named “Larry” to retired Master Sgt. Mark Gwathmey, according to a Today show report, who served three tours of combat duty in Iraq and suffers from debilitating seizures. Larry is trained to sense when Gwathmey will have a seizure and to alert the family and stand guard over him.
Dogs also function as “huggers” at VA hospitals, where they roam halls, visiting veterans and providing a calming presence.
“It doesn’t matter what bad things are going on, I can pet Devon [her golden retriever service dog], give him a hug, and they turn around 180 degrees,” said Iraq War veteran, Tori Stitt, according to The New York Times.
Veterans Bike Across Country to Raise Awareness of Suicide
Last February, two veterans of the Iraq War and one Vietnam War vet began a “Wall to Wall” cross-country bicycle ride to help raise awareness for suicide prevention and other veterans’ issues. Their goal was to ride 4,163 miles from the Wall of Valor in Bakersfield, Calif., to The Wall in Washington. The riders, Jeremy Staat, 35, a Marine veteran and former professional football player, and his buddy Wesley Barrientos, 27, an Army veteran who lost both his legs to a roadside bomb in 2007, came up with the idea last summer after they became alarmed by the rising numbers of suicides among U.S. service members and veterans.“We thought, OK, we can’t run across the country like Forrest Gump,” said Staat on NBC’s Today show,“but…we can ride bicycles across the country!” Barrientos used a special hand-cranked bicycle and wore an 8-pound Kevlar helmet.
Dale Porter, a 65-year-old Vietnam veteran who lives in Bakersfield along with Staat and Barrientos, asked to join the ride. “When I came home from Vietnam, I felt ashamed,” said Porter. “I wanted to help other veterans—maybe give them that sparkle in their eyes.” Porter, who trained by cycling about 40 miles a day, was injured in the first week of the ride and was unable to rejoin as of May 1. “This unfortunate incident has not deterred Jeremy and Wesley from dedicating each and every warm welcome they receive to our nation’s Vietnam veterans,” said Heather Haro of the Jeremy Staat Foundation.
Staat and Barrientos planned to finish the ride at The Wall on Memorial Day. The riders visited more than their planned 71 cities and 10 military bases on their journey, and along the way they invited supporters to ride with them for stretches as a show of solidarity.
“We need more support for our nation’s veterans,” said Staat. “They deserve our gratitude and should get the help they need.”
To learn more or to make a donation to the Jeremy Staat Foundation, go to www.jeremystaat.com.
Originally published in the August 2012 issue of Vietnam Magazine. To subscribe, click here.