Former Staff Sgt. David Bellavia became the first living Medal of Honor recipient from the Iraq War in a White House ceremony on June 25, 2019.
Bellavia enlisted in the U.S. Army in 1999 as an infantryman, and served until August 2005. Between 2003 and 2005, Bellavia deployed to Kosovo and later to Iraq in support of Operation Iraqi Freedom.
While serving as a squad leader in the second battle of Fallujah in November 2004, Bellavia accompanied the Third Platoon, A Company, Task Force 2-2 alongside Marines against some 1,500-3,000 terrorists hiding in the city.
Upon entering one building thought to be empty, the troops came under heavy gunfire from insurgents.
“Bellavia used his M249 squad automatic weapon to suppress and counter the insurgent attack, allowing Third Platoon members to escape the house,” according to an Army profile on Bellavia.
When the troops came under heavy fire again from insurgents on the rooftop, Bellavia made the decision to go back into the house and spare his platoon.
“Never in my life had I seen anything like that,” he said of the battle.
He called for the support of an M2 Bradley Fighting Vehicle to suppress fire while he entered the house. There, he cleared three floors of the house with his rifle and grenades, killing four insurgents and disabling a fifth.
One of the insurgents was loading an RPG to launch on the platoon, but was stopped due to Bellavia’s attack.
The Army credited Bellavia’s actions with saving three squads of Third Platoon.
“That remarkable day, then-Staff Sergeant Bellavia rescued an entire squad, cleared an insurgent strongpoint, and saved many members of his platoon from imminent threat,” a White House statement said.
After his service, Bellavia became a co-founder of Vets for Freedom, a veteran advocacy group that went on to amass tens of thousands of Iraq and Afghanistan combat veterans.
He previously received the Silver Star, the nation’s third-highest military decoration, which he received in a package in the mail with no ceremony at all.
Bellavia’s was one of 1,100 Silver Stars evaluated by the Pentagon in a three-year review to determine if they warranted an upgrade to the Medal of Honor. Bellavia was then one of just 13 Army soldiers selected to have their Silver Stars upgraded to Medal of Honors.