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Four decades later, Medal of Honor for newlywed hero's sacrifice

By Larry Shaughnessy, CNN Pentagon Producer
May 17, 2012 -- Updated 0105 GMT (0905 HKT)
Spec. Leslie Sabo Jr. and Rose Mary on their wedding day in 1969. He died heroically in Cambodia a few months later.
Spec. Leslie Sabo Jr. and Rose Mary on their wedding day in 1969. He died heroically in Cambodia a few months later.
STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • Spec. Leslie Sabo Jr. was married for one month before shipping out to Vietnam
  • His bride, Rose, says he "was always goofing around. ... We had a ball together"
  • Sabo died in a firefight in which he shielded his mates from a grenade, took out a bunker
  • He will receive the Medal of Honor posthumously from the president on Wednesday

Washington (CNN) -- Rose Mary Sabo Brown spent just 30 days with her new husband, Army Spec. Leslie Sabo Jr., before he shipped out to fight in Vietnam. But from that month together in 1969 grew a lifetime of love.

"We got married in September, he got to come home that weekend, and we spent the night together, and he had to go back to Georgia the next day," Rose told CNN. After that, Sabo was off to training before returning home for 30 days that fall.

"We only had that one month together as a married couple," she told CNN. "He left for Vietnam, and I never saw him again."

Obama awards Medal of Honor posthumously to Vietnam hero

About seven months after the wedding, two soldiers knocked on the door of her home in western Pennsylvania to say he was missing in action.

"They came back to me five days later and told me that he was killed in action by enemy fire, and that was it. That's all I knew for 32 years."

There was a lot more to know, and now the nation is honoring what he did those decades ago. On Wednesday President Barack Obama will award Spec. Leslie Sabo Jr. the Medal of Honor.

The Medal of Honor: What is it?

Brown said her husband was fun-loving. "The Leslie I knew was always goofing around, having fun. We had a ball together, my family adored him. Oh my gosh, my mother keeps saying, 'You couldn't have found anybody better than him to marry my daughter.'"

I've never stopped thinking about him
Rose Mary Sabo Brown, widow of Army Spec. Leslie Sabo Jr.

The people he fought with in the 101st Airborne Division told Rose that he knew when to put aside the goofing and focus on fighting.

"When he was over there, he wore a red bandanna," she said. "And (his fellow soldiers) said when he put that red bandanna around his forehead, he meant business. He was a soldier. And they have a picture of him with that red bandanna on, and the title of it is 'The Soldier.'"

The Soldier's last stand, near the Se San River in Cambodia on May 10, 1970, is documented by the Department of Defense:

"Even though his platoon was ambushed from all sides by a large enemy force, Sabo charged the enemy position, killing several enemy Soldiers. He then assaulted an enemy flanking force, successfully drawing their fire away from friendly Soldiers and ultimately forcing the enemy to retreat. While securing a re-supply of ammunition, an enemy grenade landed nearby. Specialist Sabo picked it up, threw it, and shielded a wounded comrade with his own body -- absorbing the brunt of the blast and saving his comrade's life.

"Although wounded by the grenade blast, Sabo continued to charge the enemy's bunker. After receiving several serious wounds from automatic weapons fire, he crawled toward the enemy emplacement and, when in position, threw a grenade into the bunker. The resulting explosion silenced the enemy fire, but also ended Specialist Sabo's life."

Comments: Who deserves a Medal of Honor?

When Obama presents Rose Mary Sabo Brown with the medal on the pale blue ribbon, it will complete a circle that began 42 years ago right after her husband's death. His unit had recommended him for the Medal of Honor, but somehow it didn't happen. A researcher discovered files about Sabo, and now the earlier oversight has been corrected.

Transcript: Obama's remarks at Medal of Honor ceremony

For now, Brown is focused on her late husband and the medal he earned more than four decades ago.

"I've never stopped thinking about him," she said. "My heart is filled with pride that you can't even imagine. It will be an honor to share this with anyone who wants to see it."

Are you a veteran? Who was a hero in your unit, or what kind of heroic action have you witnessed? Please share in the comments below.

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