WASHINGTON — The top brass and most decorated members of the U.S. military, congressmen and friends of David Bellavia came to the White House Tuesday to witness him receiving the Medal of Honor, becoming the only living member of the Iraq War to have this honor.
But the biggest moments came when his wife and children walked in and then he captivated the Gold Room, escorted in by President Donald J. Trump, who bestowed the honor on the Batavia resident and Lyndonville Central School graduate.
After a moving speech by Trump, the medal was draped over Bellavia’s uniform. While Bellavia did not speak, he made it a point to once again give of himself and speak to reporters from all over the world just outside the White House lawn.
“I just wanted to say how overwhelming this entire experience has been. I served with some of the greatest men I have ever met in my life,” said Bellavia, who made sure to talk about those who didn’t make it back alive from Iraq, including some of those he saved in Fallujah, which led up to the Medal of Honor. He talked about the Gold Star families and said of their loved ones, “We think about those men every single day.”
Bellavia then spoke of the U.S. Army with pride.
“We served our country, we served and upheld the finest traditions and sometimes, exceeded the finest traditions of any generation of war,” he said. “I’m proud to be an Iraq War veteran, I’m proud to stand with the men and women who served in Iraq. This entire thing ... I can’t even comprehend it. I want to thank my Army for giving me purpose and direction and it is an absolute honor to serve in the U.S. military and those fine men you saw on the stage today.”
As a member of Company A Task Force 2-2 First Infantry Division. Bellavia was commended by Trump for his actions in battle, on Nov. 10, 2004, mainly at a house in Fallujah.
“That was a tough one. It was a three-story building surrounded by a 9-foot wall. As they entered the house and moved into the living room, two men were behind concrete barricades. They opened fire on David and everybody,” Trump said of the building in which fighting took place.
Trump then told the story once again. However, this time, the words were coming from the president of the United States.
“In the dark of night, shards of glass, brick and plaster flew into the air, wounding multiple soldiers,” Trump said. “The wall was ripped to shreds. David knew they had to get out. David thought they had had it. He leapt into the torrent of bullets and fired back at the enemy without even thinking. He just took over. David took over. He provided suppressive fire while his men evacuated, rescuing his entire squad at the risk of his own life. Only when his men were all out did David exit the building, but the fighting was far from over. Militants on the roof fired down at them with round after deadly round.”
“Knowing that he would face almost certain death, David decided to go back inside the house and make sure that not a single terrorist escaped alive or escaped in any way,” the president continued. “He quickly encountered an insurgent who was about to fire a rocket-propelled grenade at his squad. David once again jumped into danger and killed him before he had a chance to launch that grenade.
“Next, two more insurgents came out of hiding and fired at David. He returned fire, killing them both. Then, a third assailant burst out ... wearing a wardrobe, and opened fire. David shot and wounded the man, but he escaped up the stairs. Racing after him, David engaged in hand-to-hand combat and killed him, too. Bleeding and badly wounded, David had single-handedly defeated the forces who had attacked his unit and would have killed them all, had it not been for the bravery of David.”
The president said just then, another insurgent jumped down from the third-story roof and attacked. David shot him and the assailant fell off the balcony.
“Alone in the dark, David killed four insurgents and seriously wounded the fifth, saving the soldiers and facing down the enemies of civilization,” Trump said.
The president said with them Tuesday were 32 service members who fought with Bellavia in Iraq, “including 12 who were with David on that very horrible and dangerous November night.” He asked the audience to stand and the audience gave a standing ovation.
“Did he do a good job? If not, you know it’s not too late,” Trump joked with the audience. “Thank you so much for being here. We appreciate it very much.”
The president noted five Gold Star families were there and said, “Our entire nation expresses our love, loyalty and everlasting gratitude.” He asked everyone to stand and there was another standing ovation.
“David often tells young people Americans don’t want to fight, but if someone picks a fight with us, we will always win, because we don’t fight for awards or recognition. We fight for love of our country, our homeland, our family and that’s stronger than anything the enemy has, so thank you and thank you to his (Bellavia’s) family very much. Great family, David.”
Trump mentioned Western New York and also wanted to honor Bellavia’s father.
“David exemplifies the same warrior ethos that gave his grandfather and all the heroes of Normandy the strength to defeat evil exactly 75 years ago,” Trump said. “I hear that his grandfather, Joseph, is 99 years old, that today, he’s watching this ceremony at his home in Jamestown, N.Y.
“A lot of people are watching, David. America is blessed with the heroes and great people, like Staff Sgt. Bellavia, whose Intrepid spirit and unwavering resolve defeats our enemies, protects our freedoms and defends our great American flag,” the president said.
“David, today we honor your extraordinary courage. We salute your selfless service and we thank you for carrying on the legacy of American valor that has always made our blessed nation the strongest and mightiest anywhere in the world,” Trump said. “We’re doing better today than we’ve ever done. Our country is stronger now and we’re doing better, economically, than ever before. We’re setting records and you fought for something really good and we appreciate it. We really appreciate it David. Thank you.”