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Posthumous Medal of Honor awarded to widow

Published 11:07pm Tuesday, May 29, 2012

Tony Krizinski of Dowagiac stood 10 feet from President Barack Obama at the White House May 16 as the nation’s leader awarded a posthumous Medal of Honor to the widow of Army Spc. Leslie Sabo Jr.

“It took 42 years to get there,” Krizinski said.

Sabo was a Vietnam hero killed in Cambodia on May 10, 1970.

The president also singled out Sabo’s 101st Airborne Division unit, Bravo Company, and praised Krizinski and his comrades as typical of Vietnam veterans’ selfless patriotic service.

“This month,” the president said, “we mark the 50th anniversary of the Vietnam war, a time when, to our shame, the soldiers didn’t receive the respect and the thanks that they deserve. A mistake that must never be repeated.”

“I’m still riding the high,” Krizinski said Tuesday. “The man really did good thanking us. We finally got some due. It took a lot of weight off my shoulders.”

When Obama asked where he was from, he replied Michigan.

“I wish I’d said Dowagiac. It’s close to Illinois. Maybe he’s heard of it.”

Krizinski, who retired from Gast Manufacturing after 25 years, also heard ribbing for blurting to first lady Michelle Obama, “You’re as pretty as they told me you were.”
Krizinski tried to savor the “once-in-a-lifetime” opportunity, but felt “over my head” mingling with leaders from across the armed forces, including Secretary of Defense Leon Panetta; Vice Chairman of the Joint Chiefs, Sandy Winnefeld; Army Secretary John McHugh and Chief of Staff Gen. Ray Odierno; and Marine Corps Commandant Gen. Jim Amos.

History almost lost

Sabo’s sacrifice “almost got lost forever,” said Krizinski, who spent a year in Vietnam.

Around Memorial Day 1999, a Vietnam vet from the 101st was at the National Archives researching an article. Tony Mabb took off the lid and found inside a file marked with the name “Leslie H. Sabo Jr.” and a proposed citation for the Medal of Honor.

“Les was actually born in Europe, after World War II, to a family of Hungarian refugees,” Obama said. “And as the Iron Curtain descended, they boarded a boat for America and arrived at Ellis Island. They settled in the steel town of Ellwood City, Pa. When Les was a teenager, the family went to the county courthouse together, raised their hands and became proud American citizens.”

Leaders at Bravo

When U.S. forces went into Cambodia, Bravo Company helped lead the way. Members of the company were moving up a jungle trail, entering a clearing, when they were ambushed. Fifty American soldiers were surrounded by 100 North Vietnamese fighters.

Les was in the rear and could have stayed there, but grabbed a grenade and pulled the pin to save his comrades, who meant more to him than life.

“Leslie Sabo left behind a wife who adored him, a brother who loved him, parents who cherished him and family and friends who admired him. But they never knew.

For decades, they never knew their Les died a hero. The fog of war and paperwork that seemed to get lost in the shuffle meant this story was almost lost to history,” Obama said, offering a final chapter.

“As he shipped out to Vietnam, Les stopped at a flower shop. The day he gave his life was Mother’s Day. And on that day, the flowers he had ordered arrived for his mom.

“And the day he was laid to rest was the day before Rose’s birthday. And she received the bouquet he sent her — a dozen red roses.”

“I broke down the first time I heard that,” Krizinski said.

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