Fighting Through the Streets of Fallujah, David Bellavia Survived Brutal Hand to Hand Combat

Any other year and November 10th would be one of joy and revelry as David Bellavia celebrated his birthday.  However, 2004 was not any other year for Bellavia and he would instead find himself on the streets of Fallujah, Iraq engaging in a brutal hand to hand fight to the death.

Operation Phantom Fury or what is often referred to as the 2nd Battle of Fallujah would see some of the closest and heaviest fighting of the entire conflict.  Block by block, street by street, and house by house it would eventually come down to the infantry and men like David Bellavia to secure ultimate victory.  On the afternoon of November 10th, 2004, Staff Sergeant Bellavia was tasked with leading a squad to secure a block of 12 buildings.

Houses 1 through 9 were cleared with little fanfare, but when they entered house number 10 a hailstorm of insurgent gunfire would drastically change the mood.  Despite taking heavy casualties and fighting a drug-fueled enemy, Bellavia charged into the house with his M249 SAW in order for the rest of the squad to evacuate the wounded.  Pursuing the enemy alone to the second level, he would find himself engaged in brutal hand to hand combat.

Rolling on the floor in a pitched battle for life, Bellavia pulled out his knife and emerged the victor.  For his action and the pursuit of the enemy, David Bellavia was awarded the Silver Star for his actions on the most eventful birthday of life.

Born to be John Wayne

By his own admission, David Bellavia said he joined the Army desiring to the guy who would play John Wayne and charge the machine-gun nests as they see it in the movies.  And while most men would never get a chance to back that sort of talk up, David Bellavia would get the opportunity to prove it in the streets of Fallujah.

Having joined the Army in 1999, Bellavia had already served a deployment to Kosovo but it would be the upcoming war in Iraq where he would play a crucial role during the 2nd Battle of Fallujah.   He was serving as a Staff Sergeant with 2nd Battalion, 2nd Infantry Regiment when they were tasked with supporting Operation Phantom Fury in November of 2004.

And while the Marines often get a great deal of the press from this particular battle, make no mistake about it the Army would ensure their presence was felt as well.

US Soldiers Breaching a door in Fallujah via
US Soldiers Breaching a door in Fallujah via

The battle would begin on November 7th and last all the way until the end of December as the resilient insurgent force of 4,000 to 6,000 had entrenched themselves in the abandoned city.  Despite all the power of the United States Military, the battle would still boil down to men of gallant courage who were willing to kick in a door and clear the city of the enemy threat one room at a time.

Ambush in House Number 10

Approaching house number 10, Bellavia and 4 other soldiers prepared to make entry.  Little did they know that an insurgent ambush of 6 to 8 men were waiting for them on the other side of the door.  After entry, they proceeded into the house where they were then greeted by a storm of machine-gun fire raining down upon them.

Instantly taking casualties, Bellavia’s primary concern was to get his men out of the kill zone.  Utilizing his M249 SAW, Bellavia charged towards the insurgents and began spraying the room they were in with gunfire.  The charge allowed the rest of the men to escape the room and exit onto the street where they were again suppressed by insurgent gunfire.

M1Abram clearing a target in Fallujah via
M1Abram clearing a target in Fallujah via

At one point, Bellavia was able to exit to the street and call in the support from a Bradley Fighting Vehicle.  After shelling the building, Bellavia had his squad take up a position outside while he investigated whether the threat had been eliminated.

Upon entry, he noticed an insurgent loading an RPG and gunned him down.  A second jihadist ran through the house firing wildly after which Bellavia shot him as well multiple times.  Bellavia noted that the insurgents wouldn’t seem to fall regardless of how many rounds he hit them with as they were heavily drugged.  However, despite fighting what he would describe as “zombies” Bellavia pressed the assault.

He chased two other insurgents into a bedroom killing one and wounding the other.  When the wounded insurgent fled upstairs, Bellavia again pursued.  Following the bloody footprints to a bedroom, he threw in a grenade which eliminated one threat, but the last would prove not an easy man to kill.  The room was filling with smoke and flames while Bellavia and the insurgent would now engage in a wild battle of hand to hand combat.

A Hand to Hand Battle to the Death

Neither man with ammunition, the insurgent smacked Bellavia across the face with the butt of his Ak-47.  Bellavia responded in kind hitting him with his rifle and yet neither man relented.  They rolled around on the blood soaked floor hitting each other with any object they could reach.

At one point Bellavia was striking the insurgent with his helmet over and over. The insurgent rose up and bit Bellavia near the waist and it was at this point in the heat of the battle that he remembered he had a knife.  Drawing it from its sheath, Bellavia thrusts the knife into the insurgent’s collarbone and neck until he eventually relented.

At this point, additional members of the squad had joined him and they fought their way out of the building but not before Bellavia took out another insurgent with gunfire.  Air support had been called into the area and they would now exit the building with the man who had just committed one of the more remarkable one man charges of the war.

And while he was initially recommended for the Medal of Honor for his actions, he was instead awarded the Silver Star for action in Fallujah on November 10th, 2004.

After the war, Bellavia would exit the Army and engage in a couple of unsuccessful runs at becoming a politician.  Committed to his family and the Veteran community, he would continue to serve as an advocate and wrote a riveting memoir of his time in Iraq.  And while it might be common for persons to age with little recollection as to what they did on their 29th birthday, neither Bellavia nor the history of war will ever be able to forget.

Jeff Edwards

Jeff Edwards is one of the authors writing for WAR HISTORY ONLINE