Trump be­stows Medal of Honor on first liv­ing Iraq War vet­eran

The Washington Times Weekly - - National - BY DAVE BOYER

Pres­i­dent Trump awarded the Medal of Honor last week to re­tired Army Staff Sgt. David Bellavia for hero­ism dur­ing the blood­i­est bat­tle of the Iraq War, mak­ing him the first liv­ing Iraq vet­eran to re­ceive the na­tion’s high­est mil­i­tary honor for valor.

In a cer­e­mony in the East Room of the White House, the pres­i­dent be­stowed the award on Sgt. Bellavia, 43, for sav­ing the lives of a squad of sol­diers dur­ing bru­tal house-to-house fight­ing dur­ing the sec­ond bat­tle of Fal­lu­jah on Nov. 10, 2004.

“It’s a very spe­cial day for you and for all of us — the na­tion, ac­tu­ally,” Mr. Trump said to ap­plause from Sgt. Bellavia’s for­mer unit mem­bers, fam­ily and oth­ers in rec­og­niz­ing his brav­ery dur­ing the war. He is the sixth sol­dier to re­ceive the Medal of Honor for com­bat in Iraq. All five pre­vi­ous medals were awarded posthu­mously.

Pres­i­dent Ge­orge W. Bush, who or­dered the in­va­sion of Iraq in 2003, awarded four Medals of Honor from that war. Pres­i­dent Obama didn’t award any to Iraq ser­vice mem­bers, liv­ing or dead, dur­ing his eight years in of­fice.

The Bush and Obama ad­min­is­tra­tions were crit­i­cized for fail­ing to ad­e­quately rec­og­nize valor in the war, which be­came deeply un­pop­u­lar, es­pe­cially on the left, as the U.S. de­ploy­ment wore on and ca­su­al­ties rose.

Mr. Trump has voiced crit­i­cism of the Iraq War while pay­ing trib­ute to those who served in harm’s way. Last year, he called Mr. Bush’s de­ci­sion to start a war in the Mid­dle East “the worst sin­gle mis­take ever made in the his­tory of our coun­try.”

There have been 23 Medals of Honor awarded for hero­ism in sup­port of the global war on ter­ror­ism, ac­cord­ing to Mil­i­tary Times. Of the 17 medals for ac­tion in Afghanista­n, 13 have been awarded to liv­ing re­cip­i­ents.

Sgt. Bellavia was fight­ing in Op­er­a­tion Phan­tom Fury, in which more than 10,000 U.S. troops took back Fal­lu­jah, Iraq, from more than 3,000 in­sur­gents who were en­trenched in the ur­ban bat­tle­field. A squad leader with A Com­pany, 2nd Bat­tal­ion, 2nd In­fantry Reg­i­ment, Sgt. Bellavia and his pla­toon were clear­ing out a block of 12 build­ings when they be­came pinned down by en­emy fire.

It was the third day of bat­tle and Sgt. Bellavia’s 29th birth­day.

“I walked into sit­u­a­tions that were hap­pen­ing in real time, and I just had to re­act to it,” Sgt. Bellavia told re­porters at the Pen­tagon. “And that’s ex­actly what I did.”

The White House said Sgt. Bellavia con­fronted a bar­rage of en­emy fire from a house, us­ing an M249 squad au­to­matic weapon to sup­press the en­emy and al­low a squad of 1st In­fantry Divi­sion sol­diers to es­cape. “David took over,” the pres­i­dent said. Sgt. Bellavia then grabbed an M16 ri­fle, re-en­tered the house and killed four en­emy fighters and se­ri­ously wounded an­other af­ter hunt­ing them down in the dark. He killed one with a knife dur­ing a hand-to­hand strug­gle be­cause he was con­cerned about plas­tic ex­plo­sives and propane tanks in the room.

Sgt. Bellavia later re­called in an in­ter­view for an Army oral his­tory, “This is not a John Rambo mo­ment. I’m re­ally scared.”

“I never thought I would see love on a bat­tle­field,” Sgt. Bellavia said of the fight­ing. “It’s hor­ri­ble, it’s ghastly, it’s ghoul­ish. But you see peo­ple do­ing things for each other that they would never, ever do in any other cir­cum­stance, and it is a sight to see.”

Among the sol­diers who were there that day was Sgt. 1st Class Colin Fitts, now re­tired.

“We couldn’t get out, couldn’t do any­thing,” Sgt. Fitts told re­porters. “We were stuck there. And I had to ask David to help me out, and he did that. He put him­self in the line of that fire and laid down a base of fire; over­whelmed the en­emy long enough for me to get my­self and the mem­bers of my squad out. Were it not for David Bellavia, I wouldn’t be sit­ting here to­day.”

The pres­i­dent said of Sgt. Bellavia, “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 com­men­da­tions. We fight for our love of our coun­try, our fam­ily and our unit. And that’s stronger than any­thing.”

Sgt. Bellavia, now a ra­dio host in Buffalo, New York, was pre­vi­ously awarded the Sil­ver Star. That honor was up­graded as part of a com­pre­hen­sive re­view started by De­fense Sec­re­tary Ash­ton Carter in 2016 for valor awards from the wars in Iraq and Afghanista­n.

He en­listed in the Army in July 1999 and was de­ployed in Kosovo. Af­ter his ser­vice in Iraq, he left ac­tive duty in 2005 and co­founded Vets for Free­dom, a con­ser­va­tive po­lit­i­cal ad­vo­cacy or­ga­ni­za­tion.

His grand­fa­ther, Joseph, 99, is a vet­eran of the Nor­mandy cam­paign in World War II who earned the Bronze Star for his ac­tions and of­ten re­galed his grand­son with sto­ries from the war. He watched the cer­e­mony at home on TV, the pres­i­dent said.

Sgt. Bellavia’s wife, Deanna King, ex­pressed delight and gratitude to the law en­force­ment of­fi­cers who gave their fam­ily a po­lice es­cort into the District of Columbia as they ar­rived from New York with their three chil­dren.

“I’m not go­ing to lie,” she tweeted. “A po­lice es­cort is pretty cool. Thank you.”

Her hus­band is the 3,469th Amer­i­can to re­ceive the Medal of Honor.

Pres­i­dent Trump ap­plauded Sgt. Bellavia, who said the bat­tle­field is “hor­ri­ble, it’s ghastly, it’s ghoul­ish. But you see peo­ple do­ing things for each other that they would never, ever do in any other cir­cum­stance, and it is a sight to see.”

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