Disneyland just honored a hero of the Iraq War, making him an “honorary citizen” of the resort.
Former U.S. Army Staff Sgt. David Bellavia received the honor during the daily flag retreat ceremony at Disneyland on July 13. After the ceremony, Disney Ambassador Rafa Barron presented Bellavia with a certificate that officially declared him as an “Honorary Citizen of the Disneyland Resort.”
The ceremony was also attended by SALUTE, Disneyland’s business-employee resource group that works with veterans and helps them transition into civilian life, the Disney Parks blog reports.
Senior mechanical engineer at the Disneyland Resort and SALUTE team member Jason Kolons said, “David is a hero. Thanking him for his service and giving him one of our SALUTE pins was an honor. A lot of the other veterans at the flag retreat ceremony were excited to see David and say ‘thank you,’ as well.”
“This is a very patriotic ceremony, and I’m impressed with the way the Disneyland Resort has treated me and our veterans who have served in other generations across all branches of the military,” Bellavia told the Disney Parks blog. “This is my first time at Disneyland, and the cast members are very friendly and kind. There are smiles everywhere!”
Bellavia is the first living Iraq war veteran to be given the prestigious honor after he saved his platoon during the Second Battle of Fallujah in 2004, considered the bloodiest conflict for United States troops since the Vietnam War.
He was awarded the Medal of Honor in June.
Bellavia previously discussed being awarded the Medal of Honor on “Fox & Friends,” saying, "You feel awkward and uncomfortable," he said, in regard to having the spotlight on him for his military valor. "But my commander in chief allowed me to bring my soldiers on that stage and that meant so much to them.
"That has never happened before in the Medal of Honor Ceremony, it's about one person, and he allowed it to make it about the entire team," Bellavia continued.
Bellavia went on to discuss the days of fighting that ensued during the battle, which took place on his 29th birthday.
"We went in there and it was close-quarter combat, you know. It's grisly stuff," he said, comparing it to the Battle of Antietam in the Civil War.
"We had a mission to walk in and find six to eight bad guys and a group of about 10 houses. We walked into one house and these guys set up an ambush," he said.
Bellavia was forced to take down a number of insurgents inside the house, including one in hand-to-hand combat, after realizing he could not use his weapon because the room he was in was filled with propane tanks.
Eventually, his actions allowed a number of other soldiers to be saved. There were 54 reported deaths of American soldiers during the Second Battle of Fallujah, and more than 400 were injured.
This story contains additional reporting by Anna Hopkins.