On 10 November 2004, an ordinary guy from Buffalo, New York, did the extraordinary.
During the bloodiest battle of the Iraq War, the Battle for Fallujah, 2nd Battalion, 2nd Infantry Regiment, 1st Infantry Division, was engaged in clearing houses of enemy insurgents, when a squad from Alpha Company became trapped in a perfectly-set ambush inside a house. Some soldiers were hit, some were pinned down, their destruction imminent.
The platoon leader, Staff Sergeant David Bellavia, recognizing the danger to his men, took it upon himself to rescue them, and in the process, subdued an entire enemy squad. He repeatedly exposed himself to direct automatic fire from the insurgents, enabling his team to escape the house. Then SSGT Bellavia methodically neutralized the shooters, one by one, obtaining, and insuring safety for his soldiers.
“For acts of gallantry and intrepidity above and beyond the call of duty,” SSGT Bellavia was subsequently awarded the Congressional Medal of Honor by President Donald Trump on 25 June 2019.
What motivates people to commit such acts? Is it innate heroism? Fearlessness? SSGT Bellavia says otherwise. In his acceptance speech, SSGT Bellavia said the reason is love.
“It is our love – of nation, of 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.”
Contrary to the popular notion of love as an overwhelmingly good feeling, love – real love, Biblical love – ACTS. Love acts on behalf of others, often at great personal risk or at great personal sacrifice. Jesus said, “Greater love has no one than this, that someone lay down his life for his friends..” (John 15:13) He showed us exactly what He meant by laying down His own life, so that those who trust in Him could live – forever. One of Jesus’ disciples said, “By this we know love, that he laid down his life for us, and we ought to lay down our lives for the brothers.” (1 John 3:16)
Love is the essence of Christian discipleship in action. Jesus said it is the characteristic by which His followers would be known. “By this all people will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another..”(John 13:35) Love GIVES…by setting aside self, and by giving of ourselves for others. It is demonstrated, not just in great acts of heroism on the battlefield, but in the daily sacrifices of our comforts, our own glory, our own accolades, our wealth, and our time – so that others’ lives are somehow made better. Love is death to self, that others might live.
Love is about SHARING – even when it costs us, even with those who might not even say, “Thank you.” I recall a conversation once about sharing Christ with others, and about our reluctance to expose ourselves to possible embarrassment or rejection. The other person said, “What we need is to be more bold!” My reply was that what we need is to be more loving. Because, love – as SSGT Belavia demonstrated – is concerned, not with ourselves, but with others.
Love ACTS. Love GIVES. Love SHARES. All for the sake of others.
By the way, the day that SSGT Bellavia risked his own life to save his soldiers – was his 29th birthday.
LtCol, retired, USAF
Larry is Officer Christian Fellowship Director of ROTC Ministry and contributing author to the Warfighter’s Study Bible.