Medal Of Honor Awarded To Iraq War Veteran Retired Army Staff Sgt. David Bellavia received the nation's highest medal for heroism for saving his squad in Fallujah, Iraq. Bellavia is the first living veteran of that war to be so honored.
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Medal Of Honor Awarded To Iraq War Veteran

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Medal Of Honor Awarded To Iraq War Veteran

Medal Of Honor Awarded To Iraq War Veteran

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ARI SHAPIRO, HOST:

Retired Army Staff Sergeant David Bellavia received the Medal of Honor today. He's the Iraq War's first living veteran to receive the nation's highest military award. It's an upgrade of the Silver Star Bellavia earned fighting in Fallujah nearly 15 years ago. NPR's David Welna has his story. And a warning - you'll hear the sound of gunfire.

DAVID WELNA, BYLINE: The Medal of Honor has been awarded to five other Americans who also fought in the Iraq War, but only their surviving relatives attended those White House ceremonies. Today David Bellavia's wife and three children were at the White House and so was he. President Trump draped the medal around his neck.

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PRESIDENT DONALD TRUMP: Today it's my privilege to award the highest military honor to an American soldier who demonstrated exceptional courage to protect his men and defend our nation.

WELNA: Bellavia's Medal of Honor moment was actually recorded by Michael Ware, an Australian journalist who embedded with Bellavia's squad in Fallujah. The episode appears in Ware's documentary film "Only The Dead."

(SOUNDBITE OF DOCUMENTARY, "ONLY THE DEAD")

MICHAEL WARE: Someone had to go back in there. Someone had to kill them.

DAVID BELLAVIA: Yeah, I want to go in there and go after them.

WARE: It was Staff Sergeant Bellavia.

BELLAVIA: I want to go. I want to go.

WELNA: Bellavia and Ware then entered a darkened house, where they knew insurgents were lurking.

(SOUNDBITE OF DOCUMENTARY, "ONLY THE DEAD")

WARE: Bellavia killed two of them in the hallway.

WELNA: Speaking with reporters yesterday at the Pentagon, Bellavia said he'd earlier considered journalists, as he put it, 100% a nuisance and without any purpose on the battlefield. He said he was wrong about that.

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BELLAVIA: Without men and women who do this job, America will never know what we do. It will go unremarked. Our families would never know. Our citizens would never know the sacrifice that goes on. I never saw that as a soldier. And as a civilian, I see it.

WELNA: It was Bellavia's former company commander Colonel Doug Walter who pushed for his upgrade from Silver Star to Medal of Honor.

DOUG WALTER: David saved his life and really saved the life almost of an entire squad.

WELNA: Bellavia says he had nothing to do with the process of being upgraded and only found out about it seven months ago in a phone call from Trump.

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BELLAVIA: There was always rumors that it was going to - you know, I'm - put you in for this or we think maybe this could be that. But, you know, 15 years goes by, and you move on with your life. You put the war behind you. You focus on your family. You focus on work. And, you know, my life was 100% perfect without a valor award of any type.

WELNA: It's awkward, he says, being singled out for heroism when there was so much of it from his fellow soldiers, especially those who were killed.

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BELLAVIA: I think about them every day. They gave up their tomorrows for us. And I think of that generation in the Iraq War. And I'm mighty proud to be a part of it.

WELNA: Medal of Honor living recipient David Bellavia. David Welna, NPR News, Washington.

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