His name was Leslie Sabo, but she called him Les.
She met him when she was 18, married him when she was 20 and buried him the day before her 21st birthday.
“He was the love of my life. Still is,” said Brown, 63, who remarried and then divorced. “I’ve kept his picture on my wall all these years.”
For the ceremony, which occurred on a cloudless, scorching day as the memorial turned 30, more than a dozen relatives of those lost were chosen to walk alongside high-ranking officials and place wreaths against the Wall. They came from across the country, each carrying with them a different story. One man spent a lifetime watching his father limp, only to eventually lose him to the war injury. Another man said goodbye to a little sister whose nature was to take care of others. Brown, who traveled from New Castle, Pa., lost a man who this month, at the insistence of his fellow soldiers, received the Medal of Honor posthumously.
Defense Secretary Leon Panetta recalled attending the May 16 ceremony as he told Monday’s crowd that now was the time to right past wrongs.
"The story of Les is in many ways the story of the Vietnam War,” Panetta said. “We forgot, and now we finally remember.”
The Memorial Day event, which followed a ceremony at Arlington National Cemetery, kicked off a national effort to commemorate the 50th anniversary of the Vietnam War and honor those who served. Over the next 13 years, the federal government plans to reach out and thank Vietnam veterans in their home towns — an effort that government officials acknowledge is long overdue.
“One of the most painful chapters in our history was Vietnam, most particularly, how we treated our troops who served there,” Obama told the crowd. “You were often blamed for a war you didn’t start, when you should have been commended for serving your country with valor. . . . You came home and sometimes were denigrated, when you should have been celebrated. It was a national shame, a disgrace that should have never happened. And that’s why here today we resolve that it will not happen again.”
To much applause, Obama asked all Vietnam veterans to stand or raise their hands so he could say “those simple words which always greet our troops when they come home from here on out.”
“Welcome home. Welcome home. Welcome home,” he said. “Thank you. We appreciate you. Welcome home.”