Iraq War Veteran Becomes First MEDAL of HONOR Recipient From ‘Operation Phantom Fury’

July 4, 2019 Updated: July 4, 2019

The Medal of Honor is the highest and most distinguished military decoration that a member of the United States armed forces can receive. It isn’t given out lightly—but the retired Army Staff Sgt. who received the medal this June, who became the first living recipient of the decoration from the Iraq War, is more than a deserving candidate.

Western New York resident David G. Bellavia was presented with the Medal of Honor on June 25, 2019, as a recognition of his incredible acts of valor and heroism back in 2004 during the Iraq War.

He joins five deceased Iraq War heroes who were all awarded the medal posthumously, adding his own valor and courage to the prestigious list of recipients from the war who forged into battle without a second thought in order to save lives.

Bellavia’s honored actions came on Nov. 10, 2004, when the Staff Sergeant put his life on the line in order to single-handedly take out a group of enemy insurgents in a home in Iraq during a scheduled clearing of a block of buildings.

His platoon had cleared nine of the 12 homes they were assigned when they came upon an insurgent in the 10th home in the process of loading a rocket grenade.

At that point, Staff Sgt. Bellavia jumped into action. He fatally wounded the first insurgent, then wounded a second and third upon entering the home to clear it on his own. While he was able to shoot and kill the first three insurgents using his weapon, though, the fourth had entered a room filled with propane tanks and explosives.

Afraid of setting them off, Bellavia opted for hand-to-hand combat over the use of firepower, slitting the final insurgent’s throat to take out the entire threat, which allowed his platoon to regain their position.

The ordeal, known as the Second Battle of Fallujah or Operation Phantom Fury, has been well documented in the past and earned Bellavia a Silver Star. Now, though, he’s been honored even more thoroughly, getting a nod for the impressive actions he took in the face of imminent danger.

The decision to honor him as the first living Iraq War recipient of the medal was made by President Donald Trump, who presented the medal in a ceremony on June 25th in front of 32 of Bellavia’s fellow service members from his time in Iraq—including 12 who had been there with him on the day in question.

One of those, Sgt. 1st Class Colin Fitts, spoke to the media during the ceremony to explain just how deserving Bellavia is of the incredibly prestigious honor.

“Were it not for David Bellavia, I wouldn’t be sitting here today. So I’m extremely humbled and very appreciative for him,” Fitts said. “[Bellavia] put himself in the line of that fire and laid down a base of fire—overwhelmed the enemy long enough for me to get myself and the members of my squad out.”

Since retiring from the military, Bellavia has worked for Veterans organizations and as a talk show host in his native Western New York, where he still lives with his family to this day.