Sunday, November 30, 2008

Ssg David Bellavia: House To House

The battle for Fallujah was one of the most harrowing - perhaps the most harrowing - battles in the Iraq war. Staff Sergeant David Bellavia was there, and was nominated for the Medal of Honor for his part of the fight. It's hard to find words to describe "his part", which included the virtual single-handed clearing of a fortified house set up as a kill zone - including killing one of the insurgents in hand to hand combat.

The book is simply one of the best battle memoirs I've ever read, period. What makes it stand out from the rest is the description of that fight, which will make your hair stand on end. His squad has just fought its way out of the ambush house, leaving the insurgents unscathed. Bellavia decides that they need to take them out. Tension is high.
I lean into [Lawson] and whisper melodramatically in his ear, "Dude, I'm [redacted] scared to death."

"I know, man, I am, too," he replies.

I spring the trap: "You're a [redacted] pussy. Whadda mean, you're scared?"

He bursts out laughing and the tension breaks for just a moment.
The battle is between the US Forces and the insurgents, but also between his fear and his desire to be a leader for his men. Despite the Audie Murphy stuff, Bellavia is quite up front that he was scared almost to immobility. This conflict between want to do it and afraid to do it is what makes this book stand out.

That, and the story of the fight itself, back in the kill house. The insurgents are hidden, but he can hear them. Their calm, muttered Allahu Akbar almost unnerves him.
I know that I don't have much time left. The younger insurgent is still trying to prep the rocket, but any second his fumbling fingers will get it armed.

I try to remember the Twenty-seventh Psalm. It is one of my favorites. The words do not come. Instead, my brain locks on to The Exorcist again.

The power of Christ compels you.

From the next room I hear more whispers. "Allahu Akbar."

Suddenly, the movie line doesn't seem so foolish and random any more. They have their God. I have mine.

"The power of Christ compels you." Did I say that aloud? I don't know. I don't care. I seize those words. I embrace them. They become a lifeline. I stake everything on the strength they evoke. I utter them again, louder. I have my own mantra now. It is my talisman, my testament of faith.



In one sudden rush, I carry the fight to my enemy.
It's simply an astonishing book, and a brutal - though unspoken - rebuke to a Hollywood that can't seem to find compelling stories of the war.

Highly, highly recommended. I'd give it five stars, but we don't do stars here. Perhaps five bore patches. Or teletubbies.

Boston talk radio host Michael Graham interviewed Ssg Bellavia last summer at the Democrat National Convention. Interesting listening.


AnarchAngel said...

I saw him do an hour on C-Spans booknotes a few months back. Very interesting. It's probably available on C-spans youtube archive.

Anonymous said...

It is an excellent book. While reading it, I found it hard to put it down.

Unknown said...

Thanks for sharing Sergeant David Hack