President Donald Trump on Tuesday awarded the nation's highest military honor to an Iraq War veteran who took on an insurgent stronghold and allowed members of his platoon to move to safety during heavy fighting in Fallujah.
The president presented the Medal of Honor to former Army Staff Sgt. David G. Bellavia, of New York. He is the first living Iraq War veteran to receive the honor.
"That whole night in Fallujah. The entire thing is impossible to think about unless you're talking about the men we lost," Bellavia said after the ceremony. "Those men we think about every single day."
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Bellavia was leading a squad in support of Operation Phantom Fury in Fallujah in November 2004. After helping his platoon escape fire, he entered a house and killed at least four insurgents who were firing rocket-propelled grenades, the White House said.
Bellavia, who left the Army in 2005, has been awarded the Silver Star, the Bronze Star and the New York State Conspicuous Service Cross.
During the ceremony, Trump recounted the events that led to Bellavia's honor. Trump said his squad was tasked with clearing 12 houses, and on the 10th house, insurgents opened fire, wounding multiple soldiers.
"David took over," Trump said. "He provided suppressive fire, while his men evacuated, rescuing his entire squad at the risk of his own life. Only when his men were all out did David exit the building. But the fighting was far from over."
Trump said Bellavia reentered the building, killing four and seriously wounding a fifth.
"Bleeding and badly wounded, David 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.
Bellavia ran for Congress in 2012, losing to Rep. Chris Collins in the Republican primary, and was talked about as a potential successor to Collins when Collins temporarily suspended his reelection campaign last summer after being indicted on insider trading charges. Bellavia's name is in play again as Collins, whose trial is pending, considers whether to run in 2020.
This is the ninth Medal of Honor that Trump has presented. The honor goes to members of the Armed Forces who distinguish themselves by gallantry above and beyond the call of duty.