A grateful Iraq war veteran thought it was “unbelievable” that he was awarded the Medal of Honor for his service.
But former U.S. Army Staff Sgt. David Bellavia was also personally thankful to President Trump who presented him with the prestigious honor, for breaking with protocol and allowing his entire team to join him in the emotional ceremony.
(Video: YouTube/Fox News)
“You feel awkward and uncomfortable,” he told “Fox & Friends” on Friday. “But my commander-in-chief allowed me to bring my soldiers on that stage and that meant so much to them.
“That has never happened before in the Medal of Honor Ceremony, it’s about one person, and he allowed it to make it about the entire team,” Bellavia added about the ceremony Tuesday in the East Room of the White House.
Trump praised Bellavia, the first living Iraq war veteran awarded the Medal of Honor, as an “intrepid spirit” with “unwavering resolve” who saved his entire platoon during the Second Battle of Fallujah in 2004.
“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,” the president said at the ceremony.
“David often tells young people that 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 and recognition,” Trump said. “We fight for love of our country, our homeland, our family and our unit and that’s stronger than anything the enemy has.”
More than 400 American soldiers were injured and 54 were reported dead during the bloody conflict at the Second Battle of Fallujah, which Bellavia compared to the Battle of Antietam in the Civil War.
“We went in there and it was close-quarter combat, you know. It’s grisly stuff,” he told “Fox & Friends.”
“We had a mission to walk in and find six to eight bad guys and a group of about 10 houses. We walked into one house and these guys set up an ambush,” he said, recalling the Operation Phantom Fury and the battle which occurred on his 29th birthday.
They were attacked by insurgents with machine guns and Bellavia fired at the enemy to force them to take cover while his men, some of whom were injured, were able to escape.
“David knew they had to get out. He fired back at the enemy without even thinking. David took over,” Trump recounted during the ceremony.
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Though he was able to get out of the building, Bellavia went back in and proceeded to kill four of the insurgents and wound a fifth, with one encounter of hand-to-hand combat.
“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.
His actions helped save the lives of other soldiers and he was also awarded a Silver Star, a Bronze Star, and three Army Commendation Medals as well as two Army Achievement Medals.
But Tuesday’s ceremony for the nation’s highest military honor for actions in the Iraq War was made extra special for Bellavia because the president welcomed fellow members of A Company, 2nd Battalion, 2nd Infantry Regiment, who fought alongside him 15 years ago, to join him.
Bellavia’s wife and three children, his mother Marilyn and brothers also were on hand to see him receive the award as well as the 32 members of his unit, which included the dozen who were with him on the mission. The president noted that Bellavia’s 99-year-old grandfather, Joseph, a World War II veteran who served in Europe, was watching from home.
Family members of five fallen soldiers, including Sgt. Maj. Steven Faulkenberg; Staff Sgt. Scott Lawson; Sgt. James Matteson; and Sgt. Michael Carlson and Capt. Sean Sims, Bellavia’s company commander who was killed three days later, were also on hand at the White House ceremony, according to Military.com.
“Our entire nation expresses our love, loyalty and everlasting gratitude,” Trump said.