First, a disclosure: I was sent this book for the purposes of review by Free Press, a subsidiary of Simon and Schuster. A free book is always a joy… this review, while difficult to write, was also… enjoyable?… enlightening? Perhaps the best description is “memorable,” for his story will remain with me for a long time to come, not just for the way he renders a literal fight for his life — though that must have been something to behold — but for his humanity.
I don’t pretend to be a military expert, either as a historian or a student of strategy and tactics. My field of interest is the human condition: how we meet life’s exigencies and either surmount them or succumb to their burden. The mystery of the human character fascinates me. It is from that perspective that I read this memoir and it is also from there I report to you my observations.
So… meet former Staff Sergeant David Bellavia, an infantry fighter and survivor of the second offense against Fallujah in November, 2004. His time in that circle of Hell earned him the Silver Star and the Bronze, plus recommendations for the Distinguished Service Cross and the Medal of Honor.
No doubt any soldier would identify with Bellavia’s story. On the other hand, any adult who has skirmished with the devilish memories of his family of origin (and won a few rounds) will see himself or herself in this soldier’s shame and glory.
Sergeant Bellavia’s motives for volunteering for military service are as complicated as any other man’s life choices. Some he tells you — as in the incident of a home invasion his family experienced — and others can be inferred from his talks with fellow soldiers. One good part of the narrative is that it is layered, but not all laid out for you. Some things you have to figure out for yourself, some things you must assume.
You hear about his shame early on and it prepares you for his eventual encounter in hand-to-hand combat with a mujahid in a house in Fallujah. This battle to the death, fought in total darkness, seems brutally eternal. You know he lives, obviously — you remind yourself that you’re reading his version of the story after all — but it doesn’t seem as though he could have survived this ordeal.
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I have had PTSD for many years, so I am careful what I expose myself to since I trigger so easily — though it has improved as I’ve gotten older. Still, I am careful. Had I known the story Sergeant Bellavia would tell, I probably would have avoided the book, based on my previous encounters with violence. However, his story is so carefully rendered that I got through it and was better off for having done so. I’ll never forget the images his words created for me.
Having lived through the extremities of Fallujah and the concomitant bond created with his fellow soldiers under fire — especially the men for whom he was the NCO — life in the outside world probably pales by comparison for the Sergeant. He wrestled manfully between family or life as a soldier. In the end, his responsibility to his son won out. The challenge this little boy, Evan, presents for him is every bit as difficult as his encounter in the murderous darkness.
Still, civilian life seems black and white in comparison to the bloody confines of Fallujah. Sergeant Bellavia has his work cut out for him.
One way he has devised to make this transition is to focus on Vets for Freedom, an online group which he co-founded in order to fight the twisted tale the MSM generates out of its own need to make Iraq and Afghanistan into other Vietnams. The boomers don’t own this war, but they are trying mightily to abort it.
In our time, it is difficult for a man to make his way through the thickets of modern life with his manhood intact. Bellavia has done that, and has paid the price for it. True manhood is never free.
Visit the website. It’s crisp, easy to navigate and full of information. Congratulations to those who designed it.
By the way, to see a contemptuous review of the book by Publisher’s Weekly, click the Amazon site. And remind me to take Publisher’s Weekly with a grain of salt in the future.
… At least Amazon didn’t leave it at that. There are currently no reader reviews, though there are professional soldiers’ blurbs below the kick in the pants Publisher’s Weekly doles out.
If you’ve read the book, go over and give your opinion.
I’m glad I experienced this story. Thank you, Free Press.
NB: when the Baron and the fB have finished reading “House to House”, I’ll pass the book on to whomever writes first. However, I ask that you, in turn, pass it on to someone else.