BellaviaOn the evening of November 10, 2004, U.S. Army Staff Sergeant David Bellavia stood in the street outside a house in Fallujah, Iraq. Moments earlier Bellavia and eight other men from Third Platoon, A Company, Task Force 2-2 IN, had been trapped inside, pinned down by enemy fire.

They had entered the house in an attempt to clear it of insurgents when two enemy fighters, hidden under the stairwell behind a three-foot barrier, opened fire with AK-47s and a machine gun. Ricocheting bullets peppered the entrance of the house and the soldiers’ only means of escape.

Borrowing an M249 SAW from one of his men, Bellavia stepped into the hallway and opened fire, forcing the insurgents to duck behind the barrier and allowing the Americans in the house to escape. Bellavia continued firing until running out of ammunition and exiting the house.

Upon rejoining his men, Bellavia began to feel guilty, that he had let them down. He had never run from a fight before. Realizing that he had to go back in, he ordered some of his men to cover the windows and corners of the house while another soldier accompanied him inside.

The two insurgents sat waiting behind the stairs. Bellavia could hear them whispering to each other. Taking refuge in the living room, Bellavia tossed a grenade down the hall, missing long as it flew out the back door and exploding in the garden.

Looking around the room for another means to attack, Bellavia noticed mirror fragments on the wall. Not only could he see the insurgents, they could see him. One of the insurgents was young, holding two AK-47s, while the one manning the machine gun was older. Suddenly, the younger one prepared to launch a rocket, which would have set off the propane tanks that lined the room – a trap meant to kill any Americans who attempted to take the house.

Recognizing that he had to act, Bellavia rushed into the other room, catching the young man by surprise before he could fire and taking him out with his M16. As he other insurgent made a run for the door, Bellavia fired in his direction, unsure of whether his shot was on target.

Moving to take cover near the stairway, and alone after his comrade had been hit and was forced to evacuate, Bellavia noticed another insurgent in the kitchen nearby. After firing a few shots and taking cover, the insurgent ventured toward Bellavia’s location, searching for his target. Before he could react, Bellavia was able to fire off several rounds, quickly killing him.

Just after eliminating another insurgent in a nearby bedroom, bullets slammed into the wall near Bellavia’s head. Realizing he was not alone in the room, he made his way toward the closet, where he noticed two splintered holes. Right then, the insurgent broke out, making a run for the next room as Bellavia hit him with two shots in the leg.

Hearing movement in the room next door, Bellavia suddenly notices a voice, speaking in a thick accent. “I will kill you and take your dog collar. Your mommy will never find you,” taunts the voice. Turning on his night goggles, Bellavia catches the man peering into his room, killing him with his M16 before he knew what happened.

Rather than evacuate the house to bring in reinforcements, Bellavia reloaded his rifle and moved for the stairs. His luck continued as he slipped in a pool of blood just as an enemy round slammed into the wall where his head had been. Bellavia quickly recovered and tossed a grenade into the room the shot had come from. After hearing the explosion followed by a groan, he knew he had his man.

As he leveled his M16 to finish off the insurgent, Bellavia noticed that the room was packed with propane tanks, a bomb waiting to be set off by an errant shot. Knowing that to fire his weapon could be suicide, Bellavia attacked the insurgent with the butt of his rifle. The terrorist fought back, and the two became locked in hand to hand combat. Suddenly, Bellavia remembered that he had a Gerber knife in his belt, which he used to finally subdue his enemy.

Trying to clear his mind from the events that just took place, Bellavia heard a loud crash, as another man jumped from the roof, landing on a nearby patio just outside. Bellavia fired two more shots, before running out of ammunition. He grabbed he AK-47 of the nearby dead insurgent, firing rounds into the final terrorist until he fell from the patio to the garden below.

Out of energy, Bellavia, sat down and lit a cigarette, waiting for the other Americans to join him. It was his 29th birthday, spent in a far different place and in much different circumstances than he could have ever imagined.

David Bellavia would be awarded the Silver Star for his actions during the Battle of Fallujah. He has also been recommended for our nation’s highest military award – the Medal of Honor – for his valor that day. Since leaving active duty, he has become one of the strongest and most articulate advocates for those who have served in Iraq and Afghanistan.

It is for this courage, and for his tireless support of his fellow veterans of this new generation, the American Veterans Center is proud to present David Bellavia with the 2009 Paul Ray Smith Award.