Medal of Honor recipient David Bellavia on America's warrior class
Former Army Staff Sgt. David Bellavia is the first living veteran of the Iraq War to receive the Medal of Honor, and only the sixth U.S. servicemember to receive the nation’s highest award for combat valor for actions in Iraq. U.S. Army photo by Sgt. Kevin Roy

Medal of Honor recipient David Bellavia on America's warrior class

In a White House ceremony June 25, President Trump awarded Iraq veteran David Bellavia the Medal of Honor, praising the former Army staff sergeant’s “exceptional courage to protect his men and defend our nation.”

A squad leader with Company A, Task Force 2-2, 1st Infantry Division, Bellavia was clearing a block of buildings when his platoon was pinned down Nov. 10, 2004, in Fallujah, Iraq. 

“He entered the house where his squad was trapped, and engaged insurgents, providing cover fire so that he and his fellow soldiers could exit safely,” Bellavia’s Medal of Honor citation reads. “Then-Staff Sergeant Bellavia then re-entered the house, armed with an M16, and assaulted insurgents who were firing rocket-propelled grenades. 

“That remarkable day, then-Staff Sergeant Bellavia rescued an entire squad, cleared an insurgent strongpoint, and saved many members of his platoon from imminent threat.”

Following is an excerpt from Bellavia’s speech at the Pentagon Hall of Heroes in Arlington, Va.

Why do American warriors under fire do what men have done since this nation’s inception? This is a common thread that connects the militias of Lexington and Concord with the warriors of Fallujah. It is our love of nation, our way of life, and our love for those with whom we serve, side by side. We defend, we avenge, we sacrifice, we bleed, and we are willing to die for this unique creation, the United States of America. 

I am complete for having experienced that kind of sacrifice with my fellow men at arms, and those who died. They gave their lives for me, they gave their lives for you, and for countless citizens who will never know them ... They were our countrymen, they were our friends, and these men will never get the chance to experience the cycle of life, the birth and growth of their children. They shall not grow old because they chose to stand in our place and face the enemy for us. 

It’s not enough to acknowledge the fallen by name or just inscribe their names in marble as proof that they lived and died. To truly honor the fallen, we must acknowledge how and why they gave their lives. Their deaths were
not a random act or a splash of misfortune. These men and women voluntarily put themselves in harm’s way, prepared to die, so that we may rest secured at home. They are the insurance policy that guarantees that our founding documents, our God-given rights, are more worthy than their own tomorrows. 

When the news (came) that Faulkenburg, Sims, Matteson and Iwan had fallen, the reaction, the shock, the disbelief, the grief, were transformed into resolve and rage to complete the mission assigned to us and give us even greater tenacity under fire. Their sacrifice gave us clear focus to fight using a reserve we never knew we had. We broke the will of our adversaries, the enemy was defeated, and because of that, we came home. 

For the infantrymen in combat, there is nobility and purpose in our lives, and that is unique. But we don’t see ourselves as a people apart. We are America’s warrior class. We are citizens of the United States and treasure this land more than any overseas posting. The Army provided me with purpose and appreciation for the blessing America has bestowed upon us all. I am forever grateful to the United States Army for making me able to count and cherish those blessings in a way that is unique to most, and to those who wear the uniform. I think the uniform, I think my Army, has made us all better men, fathers, employees, husbands and citizens. 

The controversy that swirled over the Iraq War was not a departure from other wars America has fought. With the exception of the surprise attack on Pearl Harbor, open dissent has been at the core of our very being, and war has never been a particularly popular undertaking.

American soldiers have never confused the United States with Sparta. The best leaders in battle become that way by being loyal and dutiful subordinates. We don’t get a vote. We execute the lawful intent of our government. There is no political affiliation on our dog tags. We continue the warrior legacy of the United States without regard for adulation or unanimous approval. 

The Iraq veteran has maintained and, in many circumstances, far exceeded the highest traditions of military service to this great nation. Of the 1.5 million men and women who have served in Iraq, the valor they displayed was often subsumed by political rhetoric at home. But that in no way diminishes the accomplishment of our troops or the accomplishments of my generation at war. 

This award should be seen as a validation of our efforts, not as a reward for the action of one individual in one house in Fallujah .... We have much more work to do when it comes to the Iraq War veteran. We’re are not there yet, and we’re not even close when it comes to educating our fellow Americans about what was accomplished, what was sacrificed, and what we all went through. Our survival as a nation depends on it.

Iran, Russia, China, North Korea, ISIS, al-Qaida. They may be watching this right now. Our military should not be mistaken for a cable news gabfest show. We don’t care what you look like. We don’t care who you voted for, who you worship, what you worship, who you love. It doesn’t matter if your dad left you millions when he died or if you knew who your father was. We have been honed into a machine of lethal moving parts that you would be wise to avoid if you know what’s good for you. We will not be intimidated. We will not back down. We’ve seen war. We don’t want war. But if you want war with the United States of America, there’s one thing I can promise you, so help me God: someone else will raise your sons and daughters. 

We fight so our children never have to. We fight for one day when our children and our enemy’s children can discuss their differences without fear or loathing. We fight so that anyone out there thinking about raising arms against our citizens or allies realizes the futility of attrition against a disciplined, professional and lethal force built to withstand anything you can dream of throwing at us. Americans want this kind of country, Americans want this kind of world, and we stand ready to defend it, to protect us, so help us God.