On his way home from serving in Iraq, U.S. Army Staff Sgt. David Bellavia landed in Atlanta and was walking through the airport wearing his protective combat uniform when he was approached by two crying men — Vietnam veterans. They said to Bellavia, "Welcome home." And then they said three words that Bellavia "never expected to hear from another veteran. They said, ‘I love you.'"
Bellavia is the recipient of the Silver Star for his actions during the Second Battle of Fallujah, as well as the recipient of the Bronze Star, three Army Commendation Medals, two Army Achievement Medals and the New York State Conspicuous Cross. He currently resides in Batavia, N.Y., is the vice chairman of Vets for Freedom, and he published a memoir in 2007, "House to House: An Epic Memoir of War."
Bellavia told attendees at The American Legion's 95th national convention on Aug. 28 that after his brief encounter with the Vietnam veterans, he believes the greatest generation is those who fought for their country and never received the proper welcome home.
"I think the greatest generation is an 18-year-old kid, who can't even spell the country he was drafted to serve in," Bellavia said. "I think the greatest generation is a young man who instead of being homecoming king, he was told to go fight a war overseas that he didn't ask for, he didn't vote for. The greatest generation would turn on the radio and be told that they were baby killers by popular culture. They were told by Hollywood that they were ignorant and a fool for doing what their country asked of them.
"In my opinion, the greatest generation was a generation that stood shoulder to shoulder and protected Iraq and Afghanistan veterans from the same unwashed ignorant classes that choose to put the soldier behind the foreign policy. The greatest generation is a generation of veterans who were treated with dishonor and shame and made sure that their sons and daughters would never be treated like they were treated."
Bellavia asked all Vietnam veterans in the audience to stand and he said, "‘Welcome home. We love you.'"
He went on to express how Americans today look at veterans as either victims or criminals, especially when it comes to Post Traumatic Stress Disorder.
"Why are we calling PTS a disorder? Don't tell us that there isn't a stigma with PTSD," he said. "We weren't born to fight. We weren't born to kill. We weren't even born to lead. We were born to follow until we had an opportunity to learn to lead. And just like we cannot be afraid to shoot in battle, we can't be afraid to speak out when we come home.
"Combat is incredible. You see some of the most foolish things you can imagine. But there are also things that we see that we would never expect to see anywhere else. We see love, we see sacrifice and the grace of God. We see people of other demographics, or economic backgrounds, and you see them bleed for each other. We are brothers that God intended us to be."