His story speaks volumes of the American spirit and warrior ethos, President Donald Trump said of the actions of former Army Staff Sgt. David Bellavia in Fallujah, Iraq, on Nov. 10, 2004.
"We don't fight for awards or recognition, we fight for love of country, our home, our family, our unit -- and that's stronger than anything the enemy has," Trump said on Tuesday, paraphrasing Bellavia during a ceremony to present the Medal of Honor to the infantryman at the White House.
With the award, Bellavia became the first living Iraq War veteran to receive the military's highest honor.
Joined by his wife and three children, his mother Marilyn and brothers, as well as fellow members of A Company, 2nd Battalion, 2nd Infantry Regiment, Bellavia listened intently as Trump recounted his heroics.
On the third day of intense fighting in Fallujah -- what also happened to be his 29th birthday -- Bellavia was on a night mission with his unit to clear 12 houses of enemy insurgents. The company had gotten through nine.
"Then came the 10th. That was a tough one," Trump said.
The group began clearing rooms, but came under heavy enemy fire, which, Trump said, "shredded the wall" between the soldiers and the insurgents. Bellavia picked up an M249 squad automatic weapon and began firing, allowing trapped comrades to leave.
But the fighting wasn't over. With the group facing fire from nearby rooftops, Bellavia called in fire and continued to pursue the jihadists, picking up weapons, including a rocket-propelled grenade launcher, as he used up ammunition. Eventually the fighting was reduced to hand-to-hand combat with a folding knife.
When it was over, multiple insurgents were dead. The house, the unit later learned, was full of plastic explosives and propane tanks.
"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," Trump said.
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In a ceremony in the East Room of the White House, Bellavia was joined by 32 members of his unit, including 12 who were with him on the mission, part of Operation Phantom Fury.
Also present were the family members of five fallen soldiers, including Bellavia's company commander, Capt. Sean Sims, who was killed three days later; Sgt. Maj. Steven Faulkenberg; Staff Sgt. Scott Lawson; Sgt. James Matteson; and Sgt. Michael Carlson.
"Our entire nation expresses our love, loyalty and everlasting gratitude," Trump told the Gold Star families.
Eight Medal of Honor recipients also were in the audience. Watching from home, according to Trump, was Bellavia's 99-year-old grandfather, Joseph, a World War II veteran who served in Europe.
During an interview with Military.com on Monday, 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.
"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."
-- Patricia Kime can be reached at Patricia.Kime@Military.com. Follow her on Twitter at @patriciakime.