President Trump’s awarding of the Medal of Honor to David Bellavia affirms we have a living war hero in our midst in Western New York.
Bellavia, a WBEN Radio talk show host and sometimes political candidate who lives in Albion, will receive the nation’s highest military honor on June 25. Bellavia, 43, will become the first living Medal of Honor recipient from the Iraq War. He’ll become the 3,469th American designated for the honor and part of an exclusive club of Western New York recipients that includes William “Wild Bill” Donovan and Matt Urban, among others.
Staff Sgt. Bellavia’s heroic acts in Fallujah, Iraq, took place on Nov. 10, 2004, and sound like the stuff of action movies. Bellavia was a squad leader in Operation Phantom Fury. On his 29th birthday, Bellavia and his squad were pinned down by enemy fire.
“He quickly exchanged an M16 rifle for an M249 Squad Automatic Weapon, entered the house where his squad was trapped, and engaged insurgents, providing cover fire so that he and his fellow soldiers could exit safely,” the White House news release says.
Bellavia killed four insurgents with his rifle and grenades, and took out another man after engaging him in a knife fight. The Army previously recognized him with the Silver Star award, the nation’s third-highest award for valor.
Bellavia recounted the battle in a 2007 book, “House to House – an Epic Memoir of War,” written with John R. Bruning. Universal Pictures and Imagine Entertainment in 2015 acquired the movie rights to the story.
The list of Medal of Honor winners from our region starts with Donovan, a native of Buffalo’s Old First Ward who became a World War I hero and founded the Office of Strategic Services, the predecessor to the Central Intelligence Agency. Donovan, along with Theodore Roosevelt Jr., was also a co-founder of the American Legion.
Urban, an Army lieutenant colonel, was nicknamed “The Ghost” by German soldiers during World War II because of his ability to return to battle after being wounded seven times, in Tunisia, Sicily, France and Belgium. President Jimmy Carter presented Urban with the Medal of Honor in 1980, proclaiming him America’s greatest war hero. Counting that award, Urban earned a record 29 combat decorations.
Some other Western New Yorkers who won the nation’s top military decoration:
• William Grabiarz: The Pfc. William J. Grabiarz School of Excellence, on Lawn Avenue in Buffalo, honors the 19-year-old Buffalo soldier who gave his life for his wounded commander during the Battle of Manila, in the Philippines, on Feb. 23, 1945.
• Charles DeGlopper: A statue on Grand Island commemorates the GI native who was a private first class during World War II. Fighting in La Fière, France, DeGlopper’s bravery in firing upon the enemy while under siege got him killed, which led to his being awarded the medal posthumously.
• Frank Gaffney, an Army private first class from Niagara Falls who died in World War I.
• John Paul Bobo, a Marine lieutenant from Niagara Falls who was killed in Vietnam.
Bellavia, 43, still has many years to enjoy the accolades and adulation that come with such a high honor. All of America now joins Western New York in thanking him for his selfless service.