David Bellavia ranks as one of the most creative, intelligent and flat-out hilarious human beings I’ve ever met. I have spent countless hours on the phone, sides aching, gasping for breath as David fires off one-liner after one-liner. When I hang up after such conversations, I feel let down. Though we’ve never met face-to-face, David is one of the closest friends I’ve ever had.
We met in 2006 and wrote a book together about his experiences in Iraq. Called House to House, the memoir detailed the brutal struggle to capture the northeast part of Fallujah in the fall of 2004, a job assigned to Task Force 2-2, 1st Infantry Division. On November 10, 2004, David helped save his platoon from an ambush laid inside a well-built and fortified house. After risking his own life to get his men out, he returned to the house and fought a pitched battle in utter darkness with the insurgents hunkered down inside. The solo fighting raged from room to room with machine guns, assault rifles and pistols. It finally ended in hand-to-hand combat on the second floor. David emerged from the house, wounded and forever changed by the experience. But he was the only one who came out alive from that fight. The insurgents fought him to their last breath.
For his actions that day, David was awarded the Silver Star. He was nominated for the Medal of Honor, which if this had been any war but the current one, he would have received in 2005. Someday, there will be a president who rights that wrong. I still hope somebody will step up and do the right thing here and award David the medal he deserves.
David returned home from Iraq and left the Army. It was the biggest sacrifice he’s ever made. He loved the Army, loved being an NCO. But his family would not have been able to endure another deployment. Ultimately, he chose his wife and children over what he most wanted to do: return to Iraq and continue the fight.
One of the things I admire most about David is his complete lack of bitterness over what happened with his award. He refused to talk about it in House to House, but the fact is the Army did not treat him very well after Fallujah. His MOH nomination was stalled, then denied. Instead of a DSC, David received a Silver Star in the mail several months after he retired from the service. His name was misspelled, and the citation really didn’t accurately describe the action for which it was given. It was a kick in the teeth instead of an attempt to honor the personal courage of a man who gave everything he had to save the lives of his men and execute the mission assigned. Yet, David took it with a measure of dignity not seen very often these days. He remains pro-mission, pro-Army, and is a stalwart supporter of America’s veterans. To me, that shows a grace and depth of character only rarely found.
In 2007, House to House was published by Simon & Schuster’s Free Press imprint. It received stellar reviews and was called by the Oregonian’s Mike Francis “Nothing less than a 21st Century Red Badge of Courage.” Mike’s review is the one I want read at my memorial service when I kick the bucket. He’s an outstanding journalist who in 2004 embedded with the Oregon National Guard in Baghdad even though he’d never been a war correspondent. He’s seen it, been there and been in harm’s way, so his review is the one that over the years has meant the most to me. Find it here: http://blog.oregonlive.com/oregonatwar/2007/09/house_to_house_book_review.html
The UK’s Telegraph called it, “The most exciting book you’ll ever read.”http://www.telegraph.co.uk/arts/main.jhtml?xml=/arts/2007/11/01/bobel127.xml
Writing the book with David revealed a person to me who has struggled at times with life, but who refuses give up until he’s conquered every mountain thrown in his path. He’s got more pluck and more desire, more love of his country and more raw courage than any man I’ve ever known. It was one of the greatest honors of my professional life to work with David and write about his platoon from 2-2. He’s a friend, a man I admire, and an exemplary American who operates not from self-interest, but from his heart and passion, both of which are fueled by his selfless patriotism and love of his Brother warriors.