5 Awesome things we learned from MoH recipient David Bellavia

Phil Briggs
July 02, 2019 - 2:04 pm

Mark Wilson / Getty Images

It’s not every day you get to talk with a Medal of Honor recipient. 

And it’s even rarer when they share some untold stories about the sounds and smells of war. 

Connecting Vets recently spoke with former U.S. Army Staff Sergeant David Bellavia, who was awarded the prestigious Medal of Honor in late June. 

During our conversation with Bellavia, who is also an author and popular radio show host on WBEN in Buffalo, N.Y., he shared some stories that prove his bravery, humility and awesome sense of humor.  

1. Combat Soundtrack: After discussing the hellacious firefight he engaged in during combat in Fallujah, we talked about music. And apparently, the battle had a kick-ass soundtrack, courtesy of the U.S. Army. "It's so crazy you bring this up because this is the untold story of that firefight. We had a PsyOps team come and try to rattle those guys out of that neighborhood. And they brought in these enormous, I mean enormous, unbelievably loud speakers and they were playing what they considered to be obnoxious music. And it was the 'Team America' theme, from the movie 'Team America' … made by Trey Parker and Matt Stone of South Park.”

Even if you’ve never seen the outrageous puppet action movie featuring American heroes killing terrorists, wrecking towns, having sex and fighting the evil (yet lonely) North Korean leader Kim Jung Il, the rocking heavy metal song’s opening lyric puts it in perspective, “America, f--- yeah! Comin’ again to save the m----- f---ing day yeah!”

Funny? Yes, but Bellavia explained how at the time, the joke was not well received. “The song is made to be funny, it’s made to be a parody, but at the time it really wasn’t appreciated … because it was drowning out a lot of our communication.”

2. Bravery: “Fallujah was the Superbowl of urban fights,” said Bellavia. "We knew going in that we were supporting Marines, and that it was going to be a 30-day fight.” He explained that Fallujah was a city about the size of Tampa Bay, Fla. With a majority of the population already evacuated, their assignment was to take out the enemy at all costs, “They were not going out without a fight. We were going door to door in a very large city and we were going to pull them out one way or another. On Nov. 10, we had one of probably 150 firefights.”


After encountering insurgents in a multi-story building, Bellavia’s team members were pinned down by enemy fire. Bellavia grabbed the Squad Automatic Weapon (SAW), entered the doorway and opened fire until the team could escape. After a Bradley Fighting Vehicle shelled the building, Bellavia went back inside to ensure the enemy fighters were killed. Bellavia himself eliminated several insurgents in a firefight that went up staircases and included volleys of gunfire as he went from room to room.

3. Humility: “We love to talk about what happens when you kick down a door and there’s a bad guy with a gun,” Bellavia said. “But everyone who kicks down a door is prepared to face a guy with a gun ... Everyone who stacks on a wall, or goes through a door is doing so with the intent of taking out the enemy with fire. Because you found someone in a house doesn’t mean you’re any more or less brave … Your survivability can be just dumb luck, and a lot of brave, tough, far more skilled warriors didn’t come home. I just feel very fortunate to be alive and very fortunate to have served with the men from the 2/2 Infantry and the 1st Infantry Division”

Getty / Mark Wilson

4.  Boot Camp:  When asked about what kind of young man he was before boot camp, Bellavia said, “Oh that’s a funny story.” He explained that he was not sure exactly what to expect at Infantry boot camp, but he thought he would be prepared. “I heard basic training for Infantry was 16 weeks … I didn’t know there were multiple haircuts, so I brought a hairdryer ... cause when my hair grows back I want to be prepared. So when I dump out my bag and a drill sergeant finds it and goes, ‘Who the hell brought a hair dryer to basic training!’ so I denied it and my whole platoon got smoked … but I learned quickly.”

5. PTSD: After surviving some of the worst urban combat in the history of the Iraq War, Bellavia has grappled with some truly difficult memories. But his description of how he dealt with them, is something that can give every veteran hope. “Y’know, there’s two ways you can look at a bad experience in your life. You can realize that this happened and there’s nothing you can do to change it. And you can become empowered by it and you can become a force of good … Or you can just be victimized by it. And there were years where I was victimized by it, and I was disconnected and I didn’t want to live my life.” 

But Bellavia explained how veterans should look to help each other, “Maybe I can help a younger guy going through their phase right now. Now I just refused to be victimized by something I had no control over. In the Army, we were trained to be empowered and be professionals. And we were trained to stay with each other and leave no one behind on the battlefield. Well, guess what, when we come home, we shouldn’t leave anyone behind either.” 

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Follow Phil Briggs @philbriggsVetStory.