PENTAGON - President Donald Trump has bestowed the Medal of Honor on the first living Iraq War veteran for valor in combat 15 years ago in one of the bloodiest battles of the war.
Army Staff Sgt. David Bellavia told VOA the award was the "new insignia" for his unit, whom he credits for his actions.
"I'm being recognized for this, but I served with guys that literally risked their lives and saved my life every single day. So it was my turn," he said.
On Nov. 10, 2004, members of Bellavia's platoon of soldiers were trapped in a pitch-black house under heavy machine-gun fire.
"I was pinned down in such a way where I couldn't move - me and several people was - and there was no going forward," Bellavia's comrade, Army Sgt. First Class (Retired) Colin Fitts, said. "It just could have went a lot of different ways, and because of him, it didn't."
Bellavia's action allows team to retreat
Bellavia stepped into the line of fire coming through a doorway and emptied his automatic weapon in the direction of the shooters, allowing his team to retreat.
"I took it upon myself to say we have to get out of this building, because anything could happen. You've got a bunch of guys clustered together (and someone tosses) a grenade, an RPG, everyone's dead," Bellavia told VOA.
Once outside, Bellavia, who had already risked his life once, knew the enemies whom his team had hunted down were still in the house.
He decided he would be the one to go get them.
Embedded journalist a witness
Michael Ware, a journalist who was embedded with the platoon, recalled the moment Bellavia turned and re-entered the "darkened house of death."
"I have seen hundreds of American heroes in uniform, literally doing incredibly brave things, risking their lives to do extraordinary stuff. But David's just stood out," Ware said.
Bellavia had no idea where the enemies were in the house because it was so dark, but after exchanging fire, he caught a shadow of something terrifying: an RPG.
"He's got a rocket, and that thing's going to blow up. We're all done," Bellavia told VOA.
He then managed to overpower that fighter and four others, including one in hand-to-hand combat, in a room filled with explosives.
Fifteen years later, Trump praised Bellavia for his actions that night.
"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," Trump said at the White House Tuesday.