Today, we remember and honor the almost 18 million Americans who are veterans of the United States Armed Forces.
Our nation has been blessed to have those among us choose to defend our freedom.
Medal of Honor recipient Staff Sgt. David Bellavia shared a moving speech at his induction into the Pentagon’s Hall of Heroes in 2019 that provides powerful insight into the sacrifice so many men and women have made for our nation.
This is a great speech on warriors and sacrifice.
We hope you enjoy this as much as we did.
The honorable David Norquist, performing the duties of Deputy Secretary of Defense; the honorable Ryan McCarthy, performing the duties of Secretary of the Army; Vice Chief of Staff of the Army, General James McConville; Sergeant Major of the Army Daniel Dailey; and my Congressman, the honorable Chris Collins, U.S. Representative from New York — of New York, from New York,
Ramrods of Two-Two Infantry. There we go.
Family — my mother, my brothers, Dan, Rand, Tim; Diana, my kids, Evan, Aiden, and Vivian. Thank you for your support. Your presence, and my good fortune to be able to share this occasion with my men, my family, my friends, has eased the awkwardness that I’m feeling right now.
What’s more, I am especially proud of the recognition that this award brings to my unit, my leaders, and my peers of the mighty Ramrods of Two-Two Infantry, Third Brigade, First Infantry Division. Combatants bear witness to all aspects of the human condition. It reveals the darkest parts of the human soul, while residing side-by-side with the most exalted characteristics: nobility, honor, valor, and God’s grace.
Why do American warriors under fire do what men have done since this nation’s inception? This is a common thread that connects the militias of Lexington and Concord with the warriors of Fallujah: It is our love of nation, our way of life, and our love by those who we serve with side-by-side. We defend. We avenge. We sacrifice. We bleed.
And we are willing to die for this unique creation, the United States of America.
I am complete for having experienced that kind of sacrifice with my fellow men at arms, and those who died. They gave their lives for me. They gave their lives for you, and countless citizens who will never know them. I’m talking about Simms, Falkenburg, Iwan, Gonzalez, Vanderburg, Madison, Garantis, Shrek, Sizemore, Mock, Rozalaz, Cardinas, Sprayberry, and Pruitt.
Those were our countrymen. Those were our friends. And these men will never get the chance to experience the cycle of life, the birth and growth of their children. They shall not grow old, because they chose to stand in our place and face the enemy for us.
It’s not enough to acknowledge the fallen by name, or just inscribe their names in marble as proof that they lived and died. To truly honor the fallen, we must acknowledge how and why they gave their lives. Their death wasn’t a random act or a splash of misfortune. These men and women voluntarily put themselves in harms way, prepared to die, so that we may rest secured at home. They are the insurance policy that guarantees that our founding documents, our God-given rights, are more worthy than their own tomorrows.
When the news that Falkenburg, Simms, Madison, and Iwan had fallen, the reaction, the shock, the disbelief, the grief — it was transformed into resolve and rage to complete the mission assigned to us and give us even greater tenacity under fire. Their sacrifice gave us clear focus to fight using a reserve that we never knew we had. We broke the will of our adversaries, the enemy was defeated, and because of that, we came home.
For the infantrymen in combat, there is nobility and purpose in our lives, and that is unique. But we don’t see ourselves as a people apart. We are America’s warrior class. We are citizens of the United States, and treasure this land more than any overseas posting.
The Army provided me with purpose and appreciation for the blessing America has bestowed upon us all. I am forever grateful to the United States Army for making me able to count and cherish those blessings in a way that is unique to most, and to those who…wear the uniform. I think the uniform, I think my Army, has made us all better men, fathers, employees, husbands, and citizens.
The controversy that swirled over the Iraq War was not a departure from other wars that America has fought. Just a short distance from where I grew up in Orleans County, on the Canadian side of the Niagara River, it was settled by a loyalist who supported King George. With the exception of the surprise attack on Pearl Harbor, open dissent has been at the core of our very being, and war has never been particularly a popular undertaking.
American soldiers have never confused the United States with Sparta.The best leaders in battle become that way by being loyal and dutiful subordinates. We don’t get a vote. We execute the lawful intent of our government. There is no political affiliation on our dog tags. We continue the warrior legacy of the United States without regard for adulation or unanimous approval, either.
The Iraqi veteran has maintained, and in many circumstances, far exceeded the highest traditions of military service to this great nation. Of the 1.5 million men and women who have served in Iraq, the valor they displayed was often subsumed by political rhetoric at home. But that in no way diminishes the accomplishment of our troops, or the accomplishments of my generation at war. The awards recognition of that, and it should be seen as a validation of our efforts, not as a reward for the action of one individual in one house in Fallujah.
When I think of Iraq, I think of Colin Fitts, a man shot by three separate weapons systems. Nobody would have raised an eyebrow if Fittsie retired. Instead, Colin Fitts returns to combat duty for two more years, to shed more blood for this nation that he loves.
When I think of Iraq, I think of Chris Ollie, the young saw gunner who’s job it is to open doors and put down reflexive fire to people who happen to be shooting back at him. And he was able to do that, because behind him was Sergeant Warren Mesa, ready to pull him out of that doorway and undoubtedly save his life.
I have Chuck Knapp, my team leader. Chuck Knapp saved our entire Third Platoon, Alpha Company Two-Two, when he stopped us from entering a building-contained IED that would have killed all of us.
I think about Max Field, my saw gunner, who asked our doc, Abernathy, to fix his injured foot in the prone position so he could continue to knock down targets under fire while he was getting fixed up.
My guy John Bruise, who shielded the body of his buddy from incoming fire without fear of risk to himself.
When I think of the Iraq War, I think of Pyotr Ciholas — brave, strong, and steady.
Our engineers, who devised and deployed remarkable weapons systems that saved countless lives.
Our tankers, Two-Seven Cavalry, on the other side of Fallujah, that hardly gets any notice for what they did. There were indispensable Bradley crews who busted through walls.
Omar Hardaway, James Cantrell, Chad Ellis, who, without a functioning 25 millimeter Bushmaster cannon or tow or co-ax — and let’s not discuss how that happened — he used his rifle to suppress the enemy.
Cory Brown, the grizzly bear from Montana.
Shane Gosard, humble, beautiful, kind.
Brad Otis Ayer, Delallo, the Bradley teams and those crews are the reason why children have fathers today, and those teams shielded our dismounts from rocket fire that were meant to take our lives.
Cory McFaden, John Bandy, Wilson, Garry Fry, Cain. They never took a step backwards under fire.
Sergeant John Gregory is one of the toughest, most decent men I’ve ever served with. He had a tour from hell a year after we came home.
Our drivers, Markad, Gonzo, Woodberry, Hunter, Perez. They got us there, where we needed to go, and they did it with bravery and valor.
Iraq makes me think of Victor Santos, a fiery, brave soldier who cut his combat teeth at Iraq and went on for more in a Ranger regiment.
McDaniel and Swanson, young kids shouldering 240 Bravos on their shoulder, suppressing enemy fire from feet away.
I had Stucker. I had Metcalf. I had Flannery and Gross. And I had our door-crushing ‘He-Man,’ Hugh Hall.
That is my Iraq War, and it makes me proud to have told my dad no to dental school. I learned much more from living and fighting with these men than I ever could have from a lifetime of doing root canals.
My unit’s leaders died leading men from the front. When our company commander, Shaun Simms, our company commander, he was killed in a house fight.
Joey Seaford and my interpreter Sammy, who just became a U.S. citizen a week ago — yeah, you can clap for that. Joey Seaford and my interpreter Sammy were there to engage the enemy in efforts to save my company commander’s life. Seaford engaged the enemy, and threw his weapon at them, engaging him with the butt stock of his rifle after being shot in the shoulder.
Travis Baretto and my First Platoon fought their way to extract wounded and fallen Ramrods under intense enemy fire.
My Iraq War.
I had Captain, now Colonel Doug Walter. I had First Sergeant, retired Command Sergeant Major Peter Smith. These were company leaders who put aside loss, put aside trauma, to direct young warriors during the most stressful times of our lives — young lieutenants like Chris Walls, Jeff Emory, Lieutenant Mennel. They learned how to lead and cover down when their peers had fallen.
And finally, there’s Scott Lawson, a true friend. We lost him in 2013. He entered the house with me that night in Fallujah. He gave me strength; he gave me confidence that allowed me to survive that night, and many other nights since then.
And I gotta mention this guy, Michael Ware, a combat journalist that would cover a story, and becomes part of the story. You know, before I got to know him, before I got to see him in action, I would have told you he was 100% worthless and a nuisance. Now, that number is 65%. I was wrong. Michael Ware is now the Enrie Pyle of his generation. His reporting is a testament to what we all did, and if it’s not for men and women like Michael Ware, our story would have gone unremarked.
Most of the men I just described got little or no recognition for their valor. In subsequent deployments, some would lose their lives years later. It is our duty to tell the story of our brave men and women who sacrificed so much for our fellow citizens.
As I’ve tried to communicate to you today, this is not a celebration about me. I’m not mouthing a cliche. We have much more work to do when it comes to the Iraq War veteran. We are not there yet, and we’re not even close when it comes to educating our fellow Americans about what was accomplished, what was sacrificed, and what we all went through.
Our survival as a nation depends on it.
We honor our brothers and sisters in the United States Marine Corps. Anbar Province was their fight. Men like Brad Castle, Raphael Peralta, Christopher Applesburger, Brian Chontosh, Jeremiah Workman, Sergeant Craft — they gave the enemy everything they could handle. The Navy and Air Force completed the remarkable display of American valor and might and fought shoulder to shoulder with the United States Army in Fallujah and all over Iraq.
This entire military is one cohesive, dedicated force; and the threats to our nations, they don’t sleep. They’re watching our every move — Iran, Russia, China, North Korea, ISIS, Al-Qaeda. They may be watching this right now.
Our military should not be mistaken for a cable new gabfest show. We don’t care what you look like. We don’t care who you voted for, who you worship, what you worship, who you love. It doesn’t matter if your dad left you millions when he died, or if you knew who your father was. We have been honed into a machine of lethal moving parts that you would be wise to avoid if you know what’s good for you.
We will not be intimidated.
We will not back down.
We’ve seen war. We don’t want war. But if you want war with the United States of America, there’s one thing I can promise you, so help me God: Someone else will raise your sons and daughters. We fight so our children never have to.
We fight for one day when our children and our enemy’s children can discuss their differences without fear or loathing.
We fight so that anyone out there thinking about raising arms against our citizens or allies realize the futility of attrition against a disciplined, professional, and lethal force built to withstand anything you can dream of throwing at us.
Americans want this kind of country.
Americans want this kind of world.
And we stand ready to defend it, to protect us, so help us God.
May God bless this beautiful Army.
May God bless our Marine Corps, our Navy, our Air Force, and Coast Guard.
May God bless our allies.
And we already know that God blessed America, because He gave us the greatest fighting force this world has ever seen, Two-Two Infantry and the First Infantry Division.
Thank you, Ramrods — duty first, Dukes.
Thank you very much.
To all of our veterans, thank you for your service.
God bless you all.