Best of the Best: David Bellavia and the Battle of Fallujah
By 2004, the war in Iraq had begun to shift from eliminating the remaining former members of Sadaam Hussein’s regime to suppressing the growing insurgent groups sweeping the country. Funded by former Baathist leaders and outside sources, they grew in number and power until they became the dominant threat on the battlefield. To the west, the city of Fallujah saw some of the most intense fighting, when the US Marines fought an inconclusive battle to clear the area of one of the country’s largest contingents of enemy combatants. This unsuccessful operation encouraged thousands more insurgents and new recruits to flow into the city, now mostly evacuated from non-combatants after the first major battle.
Now, by November of that year, the city was a major enemy stronghold, and Abu Musab al-Zarqawi himself was supposed to be in Fallujah, spoiling himself for a fight with the Americans.
His troops, supplemented by foreign mujahedin, turned the city into a battlefield. They dug tunnels, anti-vehicle ditches, combat positions and countless improvised explosive devices. Entire houses were turned into huge traps, loaded with fuel and ammunition, destined to explode as US troops moved in. Choke points were created with cement barriers and end-of-life vehicles to channel soldiers through well-prepared firing lanes.
It was the fortress that more than 13,000 American, British and Iraqi forces attacked on the night of November 7, 2004, in what was the most intense urban operation in which American soldiers had participated from the city of Hue in the United States. Vietnam almost 40 years earlier. Operation Phantom Fury.
Three days after the start of this battle, and exhausted, the men of A Co, 2/2 IN had been reduced to cleaning entire houses and complexes in total darkness with just a handful of soldiers. During one of these assaults, a squad found themselves trapped in a room, ambushed by heavy enemy fire from a combat position created under a staircase leading to the second floor, immobilizing them inside.
Outside the house, a young platoon master sergeant named David Bellavia made a split-second decision that would not only save the lives of his brothers, but earn him a place of honor among the greatest heroes. American military.
Realizing the danger and completely ignoring her own safety, Bellavia swapped her weapon with another platoon member’s M249 machine gun and charged into the house, spraying rounds to suppress the enemy. The ferocity of its one-man attack allowed the soldiers to retreat to safety, and a Bradley fighting vehicle was called forward to reduce the enemy position. Unfortunately, due to the location of the structure and surrounding walls, the crew were unable to engage them directly.
With an unknown number of enemy fighters in positions all around them, Bellavia knew they couldn’t leave a pocket of well-armed fighters positioned at the rear of her unit. Many would have left the post isolated for tracking units to take care of, but Bellavia was there and ready to do the job. Without hesitation, he charged into the house again. A close-range shootout erupted, and he immediately shot and killed one insurgent who fled deeper into the dark, walled house.
As the American assault force fought block by block and house by house, warplanes pounded enemy strongholds, snipers lit rooftops, and tanks leveled fortified combat positions. In the midst of all this chaos, Bellavia braced herself and moved deeper into the house, past the wounded enemy. It was his 29th birthday.
On November 10, 1975, in the winter of Buffalo NY, David G. Bellavia was born. His father was a dentist, who supported him and his four older brothers. He attended Lyndonville Central High School, then Houghton Academy. After graduating in 1994, Bellavia studied at the University of Buffalo, pursuing degrees in biology and theater. However, the Hand of Fate decided on another plan for the young New Yorker.
For personal reasons, David chose to join the pre-war army in 1999, enlisting as 11B (infantry). He was not the first in his family to join the service. His grandfather also served in the army and participated in the Normandy campaign in the European theater during World War II.
In the summer of 2003, the Bellavia unit (2 / 2e BN / 1ST ID) deployed to Kosovo for nine months. At the same time, in distant continents, the U.S. military was bustling with life, featuring troops across the Middle East to prepare for the largest land invasion since 1991.
In Kosovo, as the 2nd Iraq War raged, Bellavia’s unit unofficially learned that it would soon enter the combat zone. In the words of a 2/2 commander at the time, “There were only a limited number of units available in the military. The writing was on the wall.
Although they don’t have any official orders yet, the 2nd BN began an intensive training cycle in preparation for what everyone knew was coming. While carrying out their peacekeeping mission, the soldiers conducted live fire, convoy drills, urban combat training, and the myriad of other tasks required to conduct wartime operations.
Indeed, the day they redeployed to the United States, Bellavia and her unit received official orders.
They were going to war.
As the battle raged around him, and with little time to spare, Bellavia moved to clear the rest of the ground. In doing so, another enemy fighter attacked him from the stairs. Moments later, the previously injured insurgent also returned to help his comrade, but that was not enough. Bellavia knocked them both down, but he was immediately hired again, this time by an insurgent who had been hiding in a closet, invisible in the dark.
They exchanged gunshots and the enemy fighter fled, injured. Bellavia chased him down the stairs to another walled room. He threw a grenade and rushed behind the explosion. When he entered, he saw that the room was filled with propane tanks and plastic explosives which, incredibly, had survived the grenade explosion. However, the enemy fighter was still alive, and rather than risking a stray shot hitting one of the cartridges and leveling the building, Bellavia overpowered the man with her hands, ending the fight.
It all happened in a matter of minutes, but it was all the time it took for David Bellavia to become a legend. He will continue to fight as part of Operation Phantom Fury and will remain in Iraq until February 2005.
Bellavia left the military in August 2005 as a staff sergeant, but returned to Iraq twice as an integrated journalist in 2006 and 2008, covering ongoing fighting in Ramadi, Fallujah and Diyala.
Initially awarded a Silver Star for her actions during the battle, the citation was reclassified in 2019 as a Medal of Honor, which Bellavia presented to the White House by President Trump on June 25 of the same year.
David Bellavia’s actions were, in the words of his own quote and those of the dozens of American heroes who preceded and followed him, in keeping with the finest traditions of military service and reflected the greatest honor for himself and the American army.
If that wasn’t incredible enough, some of David’s actions that night were actually captured on film by Michael Ware, an on-board journalist who was present with his platoon and managed to record the fight from his position on the first floor after returning to the house, making Bellavia the 2nd serviceman to record his Ministry of Health exploits.
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