Trump awards the Medal of Honor to David Bellavia, the first living Iraq War recipient
WASHINGTON – Tuesday, President Donald Trump presented the Medal of Honor, the nation's highest military award for valor, to David Bellavia, who served as an Army staff sergeant.
Bellavia is the first living Iraq War veteran to receive the award. He received it for his "conspicuous gallantry" during the Second Battle of Fallujah, the bloodiest battle of the Iraq War.
In a ceremony Tuesday afternoon attended by members of Congress, administration officials and military leaders, Trump praised Bellavia for his heroism. Thirty-two service members who fought alongside Bellavia in Iraq and 12 who fought with him during the Second Battle of Fallujah were also in attendance.
"America's blessed with the heroes and great people like Staff Sgt. Bellavia, whose intrepid spirit and unwavering resolve defeats our enemies, protects our freedoms and defends our great American flag," Trump said.
"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," Trump continued.
The audience gave Bellavia a standing ovation after Trump presented him the Medal of Honor.
According to the White House, Bellavia enlisted in the Army in 1999 and served in Kosovo before deploying to Iraq in 2004. He was discharged from the Army a year later, in 2005, and co-hosts a daily radio talk show in Buffalo, New York. He is the co-founder of Vets for Freedom, a conservative veterans advocacy group.
Bellavia spoke at the Pentagon on Monday about the award and praised his fellow soldiers, though he added that the attention for the Medal of Honor felt "awkward."
"You can be victimized by it, you can become prisoner of all of these things, or you could just say, look, what do I feel comfortable talking about? I know I care about these guys, I know they love me. Let's talk about those people that we love. Let's talk about why this is ours," he said, according to WHAM-TV.
During the Second Battle of Fallujah, Bellavia's platoon was ordered to clear out a block of 12 buildings when it became pinned down by enemy fire.
Rather than put one of his own men at risk, Bellavia grabbed an M249 light machine gun and provided covering fire for his fellow soldiers to escape.
When they came under fire again from a house full of insurgents, Bellavia ran in with an M16 and killed four insurgents inside. Bellavia entered a room full of propane tanks and plastic explosives. To prevent an explosion, he fought an insurgent hand-to-hand before wrestling him to the ground and stabbing him in the collarbone.
Bellavia recalled in an Army oral history interview, “This is not a John Rambo moment. I’m really scared.”
Bellavia's wife, Deanna King, who hosts a radio show in Rochester, New York, accompanied him to Washington for the award ceremony, and she thanked the D.C. Police Department for escorting them.
Bellavia's guest at the ceremony Tuesday was Gary Beikirch, a Rochester resident and Vietnam War veteran who received the Medal of Honor for heroism as a Green Beret medic during the defense of Camp Dak Seang.
Bellavia was previously awarded a Silver Star for his actions. The presentation of the Medal of Honor came after the Pentagon reviewed valor awards and upgraded them for many service members.
Contributing: David Andreatta, Rochester Democrat and Chronicle
This article originally appeared on USA TODAY: Trump awards the Medal of Honor to David Bellavia, the first living Iraq War recipient