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Sonoran Desert Institute

All the Latest News, Reviews and Developments happening with the Sonoran Desert Institute!

Congressional Medal of Honor Given to Living Iraq War Veteran for Very First Time

The only Medal of Honor yet given to a living veteran of the Iraq War has now been awarded.

Staff Sergeant David Bellavia, now age 43, had already received a Silver Star for the actions he took in Fallujah nearly fifteen years ago, but a recent review of valor awards determined him deserving of our nation’s highest honor, according to the Army Times. He was honored June 25.

The battle in which he fought was ferocious, and the citation’s recounting of the events makes that more than evident, but it’s important to understand what sacrifices were made to keep our nation safe and earn this award. Below, we have attached an abridged version of his citation recounting his actions. You can read it in full here. Please read the citation at your own discretion — it does get violent.

The President of the United States of America… takes pleasure in presenting the Silver Star to Staff Sergeant David S. Bellavia, United States Army, for conspicuous gallantry and intrepidity in action while serving with Company A, Task Force 2-2, 2d Battalion, 2d Infantry Regiment, 1st Infantry Division, during combat operations in support of Operation IRAQI FREEDOM during the battle for Al Fallujah, Iraq, on 10 November 2004. Staff Sergeant Bellavia’s personal bravery and selfless actions are in keeping with the highest traditions of the military service and reflect great credit upon himself, 1st Infantry Division and the United States Army…

Staff Sergeant David S. Bellavia distinguished himself by conspicuous gallantry and intrepidity in action while serving with Company A, Task Force 2-2, 1st Infantry Division, in support of Operation IRAQI FREEDOM during the battle for Al Fallujah, Iraq, on 10 November 2004. On that date Sergeant Bellavia’s platoon was ordered to clear a block of 12 buildings from which Jihadists were firing on American forces.

The first nine buildings were unoccupied, but were found to be filled with enemy rockets, grenade launchers and other kinds of weapons. When Bellavia and four others entered the tenth building, they came under fire from insurgents in the house. Other soldiers came to reinforce the squad and a fierce battle at close quarters ensued. Many American soldiers were injured from the gunfire and flying debris. At this point, Sergeant Bellavia, armed with a M249 SAW gun, entered the room where the insurgents were located and sprayed the room with gunfire, forcing the Jihadists to take cover and allowing the squad to move out into the street.

Here, it’s important to note that Bellavia actually switched out his M16 for the SAW he carried into this phase of the combat, according to the Army Times, assumedly because he knew he’d need that firepower.

Jihadists on the roof began firing at the squad, forcing them to take cover in a nearby building. Sergeant Bellavia then went back to the street and called in a Bradley Fighting Vehicle to shell the houses. After this was done, he decided to re-enter the building to determine whether the enemy fighters were still active. Seeing a Jihadist loading an RPG launcher, Sergeant Bellavia gunned him down. A second Jihadist began firing as the soldier ran toward the kitchen and Bellavia fired back, wounding him in the shoulder. A third Jihadist began yelling from the second floor. Sergeant Bellavia then entered the uncleared master bedroom and emptied gunfire into all the corners, at which point the wounded insurgent entered the room, yelling and firing his weapon. Sergeant Bellavia fired back, killing the man.

Sergeant Bellavia then came under fire from the insurgent upstairs and the staff sergeant returned the fire, killing the man. At that point, a Jihadist hiding in a wardrobe in a bedroom jumped out, firing wildly around the room and knocking over the wardrobe. As the man leaped over the bed he tripped and Sergeant Bellavia shot him several times, wounding but not killing him. Another insurgent was yelling from upstairs, and the wounded Jihadist escaped the bedroom and ran upstairs. Sergeant Bellavia pursued, but slipped on the blood-soaked stairs.

The wounded insurgent fired at him but missed. He followed the bloody tracks up the stairs to a room to the left. Hearing the wounded insurgent inside, he threw a fragmentary grenade into the room, sending the wounded Jihadist onto the roof. The insurgent fired his weapon in all directions until he ran out of ammunition. He then started back into the bedroom, which was rapidly filling with smoke.

Hearing two other insurgents screaming from the third story of the building, Sergeant Bellavia put a choke hold on the wounded insurgent to keep him from giving away their position. The wounded Jihadist then bit Sergeant Bellavia on the arm and smacked him in the face with the butt of his AK-47. In the wild scuffle that followed, Sergeant Bellavia took out his knife and slit the Jihadist’s throat. Two other insurgents who were trying to come to their comrade’s rescue, fired at Bellavia, but he had slipped out of the room, which was now full of smoke and fire. Without warning, another insurgent dropped from the third story to the second-story roof. Sergeant Bellavia fired at him, hitting him in the back and the legs and causing him to fall off the roof, dead. At this point, five members of 3d Platoon entered the house and took control of the first floor. Before they would finish off the remaining Jihadists, however, they were ordered to move out of the area because close air support had been called in by a nearby unit.

In summation- the man was an unapologetic one-man army.

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Medal of Honor Highlight: Ed “Too Tall” Freeman and the Battle of Ia Drang

The Congressional Medal of Honor is the highest, most prestigious decoration awarded to those servicemen and women for gallantry and bravery in combat above and beyond the call of duty. Fewer than 4,000 individuals of the millions who have served between its inception in 1863 and today have received it, and a great many of them received it posthumously.

This is one of their many stories. All information provided in this article is provided by Medal of Honor: Portraits of Valor Beyond the Call of Duty by Peter Collier.

Ed Freeman, born 1927 in Neely, Mississippi, was a veteran of three wars: World War II, the Korean War, and more famously the Vietnam War.

Freeman actually served in World War II as a Navy man and the Korean War as an infantryman — at an incredible 6’4″, the man was actually considered too tall to be a pilot.

In 1955, the height limit for pilot school was raised, however, and Freeman was finally able to pursue his dream of becoming a pilot.

Initially, Too Tall — the nickname stuck — flew fixed-wing aircraft. That didn’t last for long, however. He soon switched to helicopters.

You may think you know of Too Tall’s exploits from the hit war film We Were Soldiers, and while the movie does an excellent job portraying a large portion of the events surrounding Freeman’s actions, it doesn’t fully capture the context in which he performed what he did.

Freeman flew a battalion to the Ia Drang Valley in 1965 to engage North Vietnamese forces in what would turn out to be the first major battle of the Vietnam War.

Unfortunately for those being transported, after they were dropped off it was discovered that they were wildly outnumbered. Ammunition and medical supplies were drained quickly as casualties climbed at an alarming rate.

The fighting was so fierce, in fact, that medevac helicopters refused to fly in and pick up the wounded. The request was made of Freeman’s 16-helicopter unit for volunteers to extract wounded and bring in supplies.

Freeman stepped up. Freeman’s unit commander, Major Bruce Crandall, stepped up. That’s it.

The two men flew multiple times into a tiny, emergency landing zone created because the original landing zone was compromised.

The emergency landing zone was about 100 yards from heavy fighting, and the lightly-armored UH-1 received multiple hits from small arms fire.

Freeman carried out 14 separate emergency rescue missions and extracted dozens of wounded, many of which wouldn’t have survived without his bravery.

Freeman and his commander kept what remained of the battalion alive. Too Tall was commended for his actions, but did not receive the Medal of Honor until George Bush presented it to him, for his gallantry and bravery far beyond what was required of him, in 2001.

Remember his name.

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Medal of Honor Highlight: Thomas Hudner, Korea’s First Nominee

The Congressional Medal of Honor is the highest, most prestigious decoration awarded to those servicemen and women for gallantry and bravery in combat above and beyond the call of duty. Fewer than 4,000 individuals of the millions who have served between its inception in 1863 and today have received it, and a great many of them received it posthumously.

This is one of their many stories. All information provided in this article is provided by Medal of Honor: Portraits of Valor Beyond the Call of Duty by Peter Collier.

Thomas Hudner, born in 1924, had no real plans on flying a plane when he graduated the United States Naval Academy in 1946. Not too long after he had entered the service, however, he had both served aboard ship and at Pearl Harbor and wanted a greater challenge. He volunteered for flight school.

He became a F4U Corsair Pilot.

Image result for f4u corsair

By late 1950, the young flier was serving over the skies of Korea in the first of the “hot” wars sparked by the Cold War.

On December 4, Lieutenant Hudner was flying his plane with five others on an armed reconnaissance mission over North Korea. Hudner was wingman to one Jesse Brown, who happened to be the Navy’s first black pilot.

While Brown was strafing enemy positions, he was shot down by anti-aircraft fire. He was unable to bail out or escape the area thanks to his current altitude and the height of surrounding mountains. Hudner helped Brown attempt a crash landing, and miraculously, Brown survived that landing.

Brown had managed to crash-land his plane, wheels down, in a nearby clearing. However, as one might expect, it hadn’t gone perfectly, and the fuselage was badly damaged, pinning Brown in the cockpit in the frigid North Korean clearing.

Hudner couldn’t stand for that.

Figuring one miraculous landing wasn’t good enough, and knowing rescue helicopters were a significant distance away, Hudner landed his own plane in a hilly area. He left his plane and braved the snow-blanketed landscape to reach Brown.

The news wasn’t good. Brown’s leg was clearly crushed, and Hudner wasn’t able to extract him by himself.

Hudner did the next-best thing — all that he could. Unwilling to consign his comrade to oblivion alone, Hudner continually packed the smoking engine with snow and talking to the struggling Brown as he lapsed in and out of consciousness all the way until a rescue helicopter arrived. Even then, the unflappable Hudner worked with rescue for forty-five minutes desperately trying to extract Brown.

Brown passed in that clearing.

Hudner and the helicopter pilot were forced to return to base camp, and later on the captain of the Leyte, the carrier Brown and Hudner were assigned, ordered the downed plane napalmed so that the body could not be extracted by the enemy, and so that Brown could have a warrior’s funeral.

For Hudner’s acts above and beyond the call of duty, Hudner received the Congressional Medal of Honor from President Harry Truman on April 13, 1951. Jesse Brown posthumously received the Distinguished Flying Cross.

Remember their names today.

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Meet the New Military-Centered Netflix Series You’re Going to Have to Watch

As most are aware, the wildly popular streaming service Netflix has recently ramped up their production of original films, shows, and mini-series.

This is largely thanks to their quest to be attractive to consumers not just for shows you miss from TV, but for those who miss premiering shows they might experience if they had cable — Netflix would love to be the new cable, and many would argue that they are well on their way to making that happen.

We get the benefits of that with some fantastic new shows, one of the more recently-released is particularly exciting.

It’s called “Medal of Honor.”

I bet you can guess what it’s about. The new show, which first aired November 9, will highlight some of the greatest acts of valor this nation has ever known.

The eight-part anthology will cover eight Medal of Honor recipients from World War 2, Korea, Vietnam, and Afghanistan: Sylvester Antolak, Edward Carter, Vito Bertoldo, Hiroshi “Hershey” Miyamura, Joseph Vittori, Richard L. Etchberger, Ty Carter, and Clint Romesha, according to Task & Purpose.

The stories of these eight men’s heroism will be shown through a combination of cinematic recreation, historian, veteran, and military leader commentary, and archival footage. The trailer is powerful.

“When you read citations of [Medal of Honor] recipients, often times it would not be far fetched to think to yourself there is no way this person could have done this,” Mike Dowling, a Marine Corps veteran of Iraq and the technical advisor for the series, told Task & Purpose. “Only they did do that, and their stories deserve to be told.”

“Everything we did that day, we didn’t do it because we hated the enemy,” Romesha says in the series trailer.

“Combat is not a great thing to be in, and it’s not a motivation to hate, by no means. It’s a motivation to love your brothers.”

Greater love hath no man.

For those who subscribe to Netflix, get ready — this is likely going to be a powerful series.

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