U.S. Army / Silver Star
Despite being afraid, Bellavia battles a house full of insurgents
It would be, for Staff Sgt. David Bellavia, “the worst moment of my life.”
On November 10, 2004, during Operation Phantom Fury, the second Battle of Fallujah, Bellavia’s platoon was assigned to clear a block of 12 buildings from which jihadists were firing on American troops. The platoon began searching house-to-house.
Bellavia, a theater major and the son of a dentist from upstate New York, had joined the Army to become a man. A test of that would come at the 10th house, when he charged into a nest of heavily armed Hezbollah insurgents.
In the heat of a fierce battle, Bellavia panicked. “I was scared,” he said, “and as I ran out of ammunition, I ran out of the house.” His men followed.
“And as I am ashamed and dishonored,” Bellavia continued, “I am thinking about what a liar and a coward I am . . .”
He decided he must go back into the house, and regrouped with Staff Sgt. Scott Lawson, who was shot in the shoulder soon after they crossed the doorway. Bellavia thought only two insurgents were inside. There were at least six, but there was no turning back.
Bellavia fatally shot a jihadist preparing to load a rocket-propelled grenade. A second insurgent fired at him, and Bellavia wounded him in the shoulder. When the staff sergeant entered a bedroom and sprayed the room with bullets, the wounded Hezbollah followed, firing his rifle until Bellavia killed him.
When another jihadist began firing from upstairs, Bellavia returned fire and killed him. Suddenly, a fourth enemy jumped from a closet in the bedroom, yelling and firing his weapon as he leaped over a bed trying to reach Bellavia. The insurgent tripped and Bellavia wounded him.
“He had gray hair and there was something in his eyes, he was scared of me, and that empowered me,” Bellavia said. “So he ran up the stairs and I ran after him.”
Bellavia slipped on the bloody stairs—a slip that would save his life. A bullet hit the wall just where his head would have been. He followed the wounded insurgent’s bloody footprints up the stairs to a room on the left and threw in a fragmentation grenade.
Entering the room, Bellavia saw it was filled with propane tanks and plastic explosives. He hesitated to fire his weapon for fear of setting off an explosion.
The insurgent was flat on his back on the floor. “I saw he was reeling so I took the M-16 that I had and just started beating him with it.” The man fought back, swinging his AK-47 into Bellavia’s jaw, punching him in the face and slamming a foot into his crotch.
“Never in a million years would I expect something to devolve into such an animalistic fight,” Bellavia said.
It ended when Bellavia took a Gerber knife from his belt and stuck it into the man’s collarbone.
“He did the creepiest thing at the end of it,” Bellavia said. “He took his hand and caressed my face. It was really creeping me out because he was almost forgiving me in a sense.”
The insurgent was one of five that Bellavia killed that day. He was awarded the Silver Star and is being nominated for the Medal of Honor.
James C. Roberts is president of the American Veterans Center. From 1968 to 1971 he served as a naval officer aboard the destroyer USS Henderson.
U.S. Army / Silver Star
Born Nov. 10, 1975, in Buffalo, N.Y.
Wife, Deanna; children Evan, 9, and Aiden, 2.
Enlisted in July 1999, and deployed to Iraq on Feb. 14, 2004. He was assigned to Company A, Task Force 2-2, 1st Infantry Division.
After first panicking during a fierce battle with Hezbollah insurgents and running from a Fallujah house, he re-entered the house and killed five jihadists, one of them in hand-to-hand combat.
Bellavia lives in western New York and is vice chairman of Vets for Freedom. He is also author of “House to House,” a book about his experience.
“I knew this was something I had to go through if I ever wanted to be respectable. I wasn’t a person who could handle responsibility as a civilian. I was a sheltered child and I needed to become a man, and I certainly got that and then some.”
Iraq / Fallujah