WASHINGTON, D.C. (WKBW) — On Tuesday, Western New York native and U.S. Army veteran David Bellavia made history, becoming the first living recipient of the Medal of Honor from the Iraq War.
President Donald Trump awarded the Medal of Honor to Staff Sergeant Bellavia for his heroism and valor in the Second Battle of Fallujah, also known as Operation Phantom Fury, in November of 2004. The Medal of Honor is the highest recognition in the nation.
“As David remembers, his grandfather’s stories were always vivid with source of pride and they were delivered very beautifully. There was a nobility and purpose in the infantry and David saw it that at a very early age. 'I wanted to be what my grandfather was’ – David would often to say – I wanted to be part of this noble adventure," Trump said during the ceremony.
"I just want to say how overwhelming this entire experience has been. I’ve served with some the greatest men I’ve ever met in my entire life. That whole night in Fallugah – the entire thing is impossible to think about unless you are talking about the men we lost – we didn’t bring home," remarked Bellavia following the White House ceremony.
Bellavia was serving as squad leader, going house to house with a platoon, when his group was ambushed. With his squad pinned down under enemy fire, Bellavia chose to heroically go back into a darkened house to take on the enemy. There were at least five or six insurgents waiting. Bellavia risked his life and returned fire, forcing the enemy to take cover. This allowed his fellow soldiers to move into the street.
Bellavia was able to sweep through the house, killing four insurgents and seriously injuring another, clearing an enemy strongpoint and rescuing his squad in the process.
He was joined by 12 of the men who were serving with him in that battle.
Bellavia was nominated for his top honor by his former company commander Colonel Doug Walter. Walter nominated Bellavia in January of 2005, but he wasn't sure why it was returned for review.
Bellavia, who is now a talk show host for WBEN Radio, has voiced how humbled he is by the top military honor. He has written a book called "House to House" about his experience. Bellavia encourages other men and women to serve their country and in never forgetting the men lost in his battle he said they quote "died for us."
"Those men – we think about every single day," Bellavia said following the ceremony. "The Iraq War veterans have nothing to apologize for – whatsoever. We served our country. We served and upheld the finest traditions and sometimes exceeded the finest traditions of any generation of at war. I’m proud to be an Iraq War veteran. I’m proud to stand with the men and women who have served in Iraq. It’s an absolute honor to serve in the U.S. Military."
"It was moving and I was very proud," said Joseph Brunacini, Bellavia's 99-year-old grandfather. Brunacini, a World War II veteran and whom Bellavia considers his inspiration to joining the military.