Soldier Who Took Out Houseful of Insurgents Recalls Dark, Chaotic Fight in Fallujah

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Former U.S. Army Staff Sgt. David G. Bellavia arrives at the Sheraton Pentagon City Hotel, Arlington, VA, June 23, 2019. (U.S. Army/Sgt. Kevin Roy)
Former U.S. Army Staff Sgt. David G. Bellavia arrives at the Sheraton Pentagon City Hotel, Arlington, VA, June 23, 2019. (U.S. Army/Sgt. Kevin Roy)

Former Army Staff Sgt. David Bellavia remembers watching 25mm rounds from a Bradley fighting vehicle pepper the side of an enemy-held house in Fallujah, Iraq on the night of November 10, 2004.

The barrage wasn't working, so he stationed three of his fellow 1st Infantry Division soldiers outside and went into the pitch-black house with another soldier.

"The idea was, I'm going to go in there and push and hopefully, they go out a door, and we can at least get a foothold in the building, bring another squad in and start clearing it the way we should," Bellavia told Military.com. "The first two guys that I took out, I thought it was over."

But Michael Ware, a journalist who was embedded with the A Company, 2nd Battalion, 2nd Infantry Regiment, said Bellavia was just being humble.

"Essentially to protect the platoon and the members of his squad, David Bellavia had to go back into a darkened nightmare of a house, where he knew that there were at least five or six suicidal jihadis waiting," Ware told reporters at the Pentagon, describing how he filmed what he could of the darkened engagement. "I was there when he made that decision ... I watched him summon whatever emotion it was that drove him to go back in there.

"You can hear on the footage David going through the house. You hear him kill the first of the two jihadis. To have been present at such a moment, for such incredible action for me, that is just an honor."

For his actions that night, Bellavia will become the first living Iraq War veteran to receive the Medal of Honor at a White House ceremony on Tuesday.

Bellavia, who was originally awarded a Silver Star for his heroism that day, was leading his squad as they cleared a line of 12 houses along with the rest of 3rd platoon.

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But Bellavia and his soldiers didn't encounter the enemy until they entered the 10th house.

Retired 1st Sgt. Colin Fitts, recalled how Bellavia saved his life in that house.

Then-Staff Sgt. Fitts and his squad cleared the first two rooms, but when they entered the hallway, they came under heavy enemy fire.

"Immediately upon entering that hallway, we were engaged by multiple insurgents and we ended up being pinned down, under fire," Fitts told reporters. "We couldn't get out. We couldn't do anything."

Bellavia was also in the house, but his M4 was hit by small arms fire. He took an M249 squad automatic weapon from a SAW gunner and began spraying the hallway.

"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," Fitts said, describing how only one soldier was slightly wounded.

"Were it not for David Bellavia, I wouldn't be sitting here today."

Once everyone was out of the house, there was confusion as the unit tried to consolidate to make sure everybody got out, Bellavia said. His M249 was empty, so he exchanged it for an M14A4 carbine with an M203 grenade launcher.

Bellavia then called for a Bradley and directed 25mm cannon fire on the house.

"The Bradley comes up to pepper it with the 25mm, but the walls are so high -- not a good elevation to get effective fire in there," he said.

Then, enemy fighters started shooting down on them from the rooftop of the house.

"That's when I just yelled for four guys," Bellavia said, explaining his decision to re-enter the house. "Members of the platoon that went to consolidate, they didn't really have an idea of my plan and what my thinking process was. On paper, it seemed like a really good idea."

When Bellavia entered the house, he killed one insurgent with a rocket-propelled grenade launcher and another who was shooting at him with a machine gun, according to the citation.

The house was so dark that his night vision device didn't work well, but Bellavia noticed this time that there were plastic explosives and propane tanks everywhere.

Bellavia and another soldier exchanged fire with insurgents, according to the citation, which describes how Bellavia ordered the soldier to leave and return with more ammunition, an M16 and a shotgun.

Alone, Bellavia continued to engage enemy fighters.

"There was a lot of confusion; it was dark ... all you are seeing is muzzle flashes," Bellavia told Military.com.

"I'm not the best shot, but at five feet I'm pretty good ... so you are trying to hit center mass, trying to hit bone to drop these guys."

Bellavia followed "blood trails up the stairs," where he heard another insurgent, the citation states. He tossed a hand grenade into the room.

"The blast knocked the insurgent onto the second-story roof," he said.

"I am shooting people, and they are falling, and they are not there when I turn around and look again," Bellavia said. "So, I'm thinking it's finally over, I'm so lucky and then it's not over ... I thought that probably five times."

At one point, Bellavia got into a hand-to-hand struggle with a wounded insurgent, who bit his arm. Bellavia pulled out his Gerber Rex Applegate folding knife, flipped it open and killed him.

"Honestly, if I had an MRE spoon, I would have used it -- it was just there," Bellavia said.

Members of Bellavia's platoon came to his aid after Ware had found them and told them Bellavia was alone in that house.

"My breaking point was the last guy," Bellavia said. "If my guys didn't come in at that moment, I did not have enough reserve ... I was just done."

Col. Douglas Walter was the officer who recommended Bellavia for the Medal of Honor. He took over for A Company when the original commander, Capt. Sean Sims, was killed in Fallujah on November 13.

There were several valor awards for Fallujah, but "that one clearly stood out," Walter said.

"The thing that gets missed a lot, everybody seems to focus on what happened when he went back into the house," Walter said. "One of the most remarkable things is when Fitts and his squad were trapped inside ... they can't get to the exit.

"Bullets are coming through the wall and David Bellavia steps into that fatal funnel, returns fire, which allows this squad that is trapped along the wall to get out. That was the first thing that caught my eye."

Bellavia said that learning he was going to receive the Medal of Honor has been awkward and uncomfortable for him.

"I just want to say how absolutely grateful I am that attention can be given to the men and women of 2-2 Infantry, 3rd Brigade, 1st ID," Bellavia said, naming several soldiers that were killed in Fallujah such as Sims, 1st Lt. Edward Iwan and Sgt. Maj. Steven Faulkenberg.

"The leaders, 2-2 infantry -- they led from the front, they died from the front ... these were men who saw the enemy, made contact with the enemy and gave their lives for his country," Bellavia said.

-- Matthew Cox can be reached at matthew.cox@military.com.

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