David Bellavia, who last month became the first living Iraq War veteran to be presented with the Medal of Honor, was honored Tuesday in Batavia. He spoke of the importance of the nation's military and of the America he has observed while on an outreach tour for the U.S. Army.
Bellavia, who grew up in Lyndonville but now lives in Batavia, received the latter's Key to the City as well as proclamations of honor by Genesee County and New York State lawmakers. The Army veteran was recognized for his Medal of Honor, given to him by President Donald Trump during a White House ceremony last month. Staff Sergeant Bellavia received the honor for actions taken in Fallujah in November 2004 which saved the lives of his men while under hostile fire.
As he did before receiving the medal, Bellavia offered thoughts about the veterans who have not survived their tours of duty and those, living and dead, who will not get a decoration like he has. In his remarks during Tuesday's ceremony outside Batavia City Center, which was held outdoors and open to the general public, he again saluted other veterans, especially those who served in Vietnam.
He also delivered a compelling argument for service in the military.
"If you truly care about our nation's future, if you truly love and honor those who are noble enough to fight on your behalf, teach your children the imperative of national service," he said. "That is because our professional armed forces in a democratic republic should never be confused with mercenaries. Today, circumstances have allowed us to defend and protect our great nation without resorting to compulsory service."
He also urged families weighing college options for their children to consider a "masters degree in human dynamics and global studies at the University of Fort Benning, Georgia," saying sons and daughters will be taught how to be an individual in what he described as the most meaningful community the nation has to offer.
"And this institution teaches the importance of treating all people with dignity and respect, and you will find no safe spaces here," Bellavia said.
In addition to his work seeking recruits for the Army, Bellavia has also worked as a radio talk show co-host for WBEN-AM in Buffalo and previously ran unsuccessfully for Congress.
Bellavia's outreach tour has allowed him to appear on national television programs, ring the bell at the New York Stock Exchange and throw out a ceremonial first pitch for the New York Mets. Speaking of his ongoing tour, Bellavia told his audience that the America he has seen is not the America being portrayed on cable news networks. He spoke more of his observations following the ceremony.
"My first stop in New York City was a gay pride parade," Bellavia told reporters. "I thought to myself I didn't know how this was going to go - you know, Army guy, uniform, Medal of Honor - they saluted me. They told me to go get ISIS. They thanked me for my service."
A movement is underway attempting to convince Bellavia to consider another run for Congress. When facing reporters following his ceremony, he was asked whether he would give it another try.
"I'm with Army right now and I'm very proud to be with Army," he replied. "I think it would be really irresponsible. I don't think I'm authorized to even talk about that. I can assure you it's the last thing on my mind. I could also tell you that no one drafted me into the Army, I voluntarily served. Nothing is going to sway me one side, to run or not run."
He's enjoying the limited time he's getting to spend with family right now. He'll soon be back on tour, stating that his next scheduled stop was Fort Knox, Kentucky, where he'll speak with those now undergoing basic training.
Public schools are also among his scheduled future stops.
"The key demographic is 8- to 10-year-olds and remind them that this country, the cable news will tell you one thing but America is worth any sacrifice, and remind them that national service is paramount," Bellavia said. "And it doesn't have to come with a rifle and a grenade. You can do it in your communities but give back, because that's what keeps America rolling. That's what we're focusing on."