Cheektowaga, N.Y. (WHAM) - Former U.S. Army Staff Sgt. David Bellavia said the news of him being awarded the nation's highest military honor was a "life-changing" moment.
Bellavia recalled Tuesday morning how he felt to learn that he had received the Medal of Honor. He is being awarded the honor for his actions during Operation Iraqi Freedom in 2004 during the second battle of Fallujah. Bellavia's company was tasked with going house to house to search for Iraqi insurgents that had been attacking American troops. During that search, he attacked and killed four insurgents.
Bellavia, a Lyndonville native, is the first living U.S. military veteran of the Iraq War to receive the honor.
"This is something that represents trauma, on a bad day in your life, and the whole thing is weird," Bellavia said. "It’s just very surreal."
The news was announced Friday by Bellavia and confirmed Monday morning by the White House. He says the president called him last October with the news. At first, he assumed it was a prank phone call from a friend.
"The whole thing is just so insane. You watch the movies of that happening, and then you’re getting that call. You go almost numb," said Bellavia.
Bellavia, who said he is honored to be receiving the award, admits he's doing so on behalf of his fellow soldiers. He says he wants them by his side when he's formally presented with the medal.
"They’re all talking like it’s theirs, and they should. And that makes me feel so much better," said Bellavia. "That’s the only reason why I’ve been able to do this, because they’re with me, and they’re going to be with me, and they’re going to be acknowledged by the president, and the world will know that Alpha Company, 2-2 Infantry was the baddest boys walking the streets of Iraq, and they earned that."
Trump will present the Medal of Honor to Bellavia two weeks from Tuesday at a ceremony at the White House in Washington, D.C.
"I have so much respect for the men who have worn this. I have so much respect for the men that weren't able to make it home, and their families," Bellavia said. "I just wish that more Vietnam veterans, Korean War, World War II, guys at VA hospitals, could feel half of the love Western New York has given me."
The Medal of Honor is the highest personal military decoration that can be bestowed by Congress upon a member of the U.S. military.
The White House states the Medal of Honor is awarded to members of the Armed Forces who distinguish themselves conspicuously by gallantry and intrepidity at the risk of their own lives above and beyond the call of duty.