Bellavia tells Lyndonville students they live in best town in the world
Medal of Honor recipient returns to alma mater with message of thanksgiving for small-town life
Photos by Tom Rivers
LYNDONVILLE – David Bellavia, a 1994 Lyndonville graduate, returned to his alma mater on Thursday. He was awarded the Medal of Honor on June 25 during a ceremony at the White House.
In this photo, he shows the medal to fourth-grader Christopher Atkins. Elementary students lined the hallway for Bellavia, who was a staff sergeant in the Army.
He received the nation’s highest military honor for risking his life on Nov. 10, 2004 – his 29th birthday. Bellavia defended his fellow soldiers while serving in the second battle of Fallujah, Iraq.
As a squad leader in Operation Phantom Fury, a 2004 American offensive on the western Iraqi City of Fallujah, Bellavia saved his entire squad when he cleared a housing block of enemy combatants who had pinned down his unit. Once Bellavia secured the safety of his squad, he re-engaged with the enemy combatants, re-entered the house where enemy fire was located, proceeded to kill four enemy insurgents, and wounded a fifth.
During a speech to 400 Lyndonville students in grades 5 to 12, Bellavia said he often thought of his time at Lyndonville school while he was deployed. He thought of teachers and classmates, and those memories gave him comfort and courage in battle.
During battle, he said he would think of his soccer coach, teachers and classmates.
“What gives you the energy and drive to face fear? This is what you think about,” he said scanning the crowd of students and teachers. “It’s right here. This is my safe space when I get freaked out.”
He told the students they live in a great community, where people are engaged in service to others. They can be in multiple school activities – several sports, the band, the musical and more. They know their classmates and the kids in the grade levels above them and below them.
It’s a great place, the greatest town in the world, but Bellavia didn’t realize when he was in school.
“I spent my childhood just wanting to get out of here,” he said. “You get out in the world and you realize I have the best hometown in the world.”
Bellavia told the students receiving the Medal of Honor is like “being struck by a comet.” He is grateful for the attention it has brought to the unit he served with in Iraq, and he is happy when the media highlight his hometown.
He urged people to consider serving in the military. If they don’t follow that path, they can contribute to the community and society in so many others ways. Being from Lyndonville isn’t a deterrence in pursuing their dreams. The school district has produced doctors, lawyers, innovative farmers, and top performers in many fields.
“There are no excuses to not launch of Lyndonville and go into the next stratosphere,” he told the students. “That is what we’re doing here.”
He encouraged the students to always give an honest effort, even when the outcome seems bleak.
Bellavia played varsity soccer and basketball for the Tigers. The basketball teams struggled during his era, but Bellavia said the team played hard in their games, even in blowouts. The opponents knew they Lyndonville wouldn’t just lie down despite a disadvantage in size. (Bellavia said the team had a 5-foot, 8-inch center.)
“In Lyndonville, we’re never going to let you beat us,” he said. “We don’t quit.”
He is proud of the effort from those basketball and soccer teams. He even recalled a win over the powerful Kendall boys soccer team.
Before the student assembly, Bellavia met with Lyndonville community leaders, including Jim Simon, the Yates town supervisor. Simon had a long career in the Air Force. He and Bellavia are saluting each other.
Bellavia said people often thank him for his military service. He wasn’t sure how to respond. But a Vietnam War veteran told him he should tell people, “You are worth it.” That is what he often tells people now while he is traveling around the country.
Bellavia was asked if he could do anything different if he could go back in time when he was a student. Besides a better haircut instead of the long hair he had then, he said he wished he had thanked the teachers and staff for their dedication. He wished he had let his friends know how much they meant to him.
“Tell people you care,” he said. “Tell your mom and dad, your granddad that you love them.”
After Bellavia concluded his presentation, one of his former teachers – Jeff Gress – yelled out, “You were worth it, Dave.”