Soldier who died in Vietnam War gets belated honor

(CBS News) NEW CASTLE, Penn. - In battle, there is no greater act of valor than to lay down your life so others may live. On Wednesday at the White House, a soldier was honored for the sacrifice made a long time ago. CBS News correspondent David Martin tells his story.

In a modest Pennsylvania neighborhood, there's a shrine to America's newest hero: Leslie Sabo, killed 42 years ago in the Vietnam War. It has been kept all these years by Sabo's widow, Rose. She was 20 and he was 21.

"We had 31 days together," she tells Martin.

"31 days."

"And then he left for Vietnam," Rose said.

In May of 1970, Bravo Company crossed from Vietnam into Cambodia to disrupt the enemy's sanctuaries and ran smack into an ambush. Eight soldiers, including Leslie Sabo, were killed.

"All they told me was that he had been killed by enemy fire. That's all I knew," said Rose.

But decades later, a researcher found reports of the battle buried in the stacks at the National Archives. One document was an affidavit signed by Teb Stocks. He read it Wednesday for the first time since 1970.

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"What Les Sabo did that day," said Stocks, tearing up, "is almost indescribable."

Watch a video below featuring an interview with Teb Stocks talking about Leslie Sabo:

Recalling a battle that merited a Medal of Honor

He tossed an enemy grenade back and then threw his body over a wounded American to absorb the blast. He ran into the open to strip ammo belts from the dead and wounded and threw them to his buddies who were running low on ammunition.

"Not only was he fighting, but he was protecting his brothers," said Stocks.

Sabo had been recommended for the Medal of Honor, but Rose had no idea until 10 years ago.

"That must have hit you like ..." Martin pointed out.

"A ton of bricks," said Rose. "I'm like 'What? My Leslie?' I was shocked. And then someone had a proposed citation and I read it and I could not believe what he did."

Rose has framed that citation, which recounts his final act of courage. Already wounded and under fire, he took out an enemy bunker.

"'He crawled to the bunker and pulled the pin of a grenade, knowing that he would have to sacrifice his own life as he held it to the last possible moment before dropping it into the bunker,'" Martin read.

"Yeah, wow," said Rose.

The next day, Stocks helped carry the body to a helicopter.

"That was harder than the firefight," he said.

"So I can see this is all still with you," Martin asked.

"Well, it just like it happened yesterday."

Then one day -- 42 years after the battle...

"The president called me at my house," said Rose. "I'm like, 'Who? The President of the United States wants to talk to me?' And he said, 'Hi Rose, I'm President Obama.'"

He told Rose her Leslie would at long last receive the Medal of Honor.

"I said, 'Well, it's an honor to talk to you," and he says, 'No, the honor is mine' I'm like, 'Wow, the president said that to me,'" said Rose.

On Wednesday, the highest honor was hers -- presented while the surviving members of Bravo company looked on.

"We were just soldiers," said Stocks. "We were just trying to survive and we were trying to make sure that our brothers survived. Now we're finally getting the recognition for one of our brothers."

This is believed to be that long forgotten battlefield -- a photo so faded it seems shrouded in the mists of time. But 42 years later, the bravery of Leslie Sabo and the boys of Bravo Company shine through.

  • David Martin

    David Martin is CBS News' National Security Correspondent.