Ex-Army staff sergeant to get Medal of Honor for Iraq valor

WASHINGTON (AP) -- President Donald Trump will award the nation's highest military honor to former Army Staff Sgt. David G. Bellavia for actions in Iraq, the White House announced Monday.

Bellavia was leading a squad in support of Operation Phantom Fury in Fallujah on his 29th birthday in November 2004 when his platoon was pinned down by gunfire as he went from house to house. Bellavia engaged the insurgents, providing cover that allowed members of the platoon to exit safely. He later re-entered the house and killed at least four of the insurgents, who were firing rocket-propelled grenades.

"That remarkable day, then-Staff Sergeant Bellavia rescued an entire squad, cleared an insurgent strongpoint, and saved many members of his platoon from imminent threat," the White House announcement said.

Trump will present the Medal of Honor to Bellavia on June 25.

"Your head just spins," Bellavia, a radio host for WBEN in Buffalo, New York, told the station in an interview published Friday. "You go right back to 15 years ago. Ever since I got this news, we're right back there and now I'm talking to all the guys and the families of those we lost."

Bellavia was released from the Army in August 2005 after serving for six years and has been awarded the Silver Star, Bronze Star and the New York State Conspicuous Service Cross. He wrote about the battle in a 2007 book, "House to House: An Epic Memoir of War ."

He has been active in Republican politics, saying at a 2017 pro-Trump rally in Buffalo that he believes Trump "can be the greatest president this country has ever known."

Bellavia ran for Congress in 2012, losing to Rep. Chris Collins in the Republican primary, and was talked about as a potential successor to Collins when Collins temporarily suspended his re-election campaign last summer after being indicted on insider trading charges. Bellavia's name is in play again as Collins, whose trial is pending, mulls whether to run in 2020.

He called the experience of being chosen for the Medal of Honor "very uncomfortable and awkward," but said he wants to represent Iraq war veterans, who have not had a living Medal of Honor recipient.

"When you go to basic training, you clean your weapons and you read the citations of these recipients and it's like they're superheroes," Bellavia said. "They're not real. ... I can't get my head around it. I still can't."