Friday, November 16, 2007

"House to House: An Epic Memoir of War"

Michael J. Totten describes Staff Sergeant David Bellavia's "House to House: An Epic Memoir of War" as providing "a gripping and necessary prologue to the to the state of the city today." That, my friends, is putting it mildly if any of these excerpts are an example of his writing.

If war is hell. This was the entryway. David Bellavia paints us a picture of the second battle of Fallujah in November, 2004. A city taken over by insurgents and cleared of citizens. The worst of war was here. Bloody, horrific, and deadly.

U.S. Army soldiers and Marines fought house to house to clear the city. But in many houses they found drugged up monsters willing to die to kill our boys:

In the kitchen, we found drugs and U.S. Army-issue auto injectors. They had been full of atropine and epinephrine. The muj inside the house had shot the drug directly into their hearts. It acted like PCP – angel dust – and kept them going long after my bullets should have killed them.

Totten has excerpts that describes this warrior's struggle with fear and bravery. He and others had stormed a house that is a deathtrap and barely made it out with their lives. He simply can't leave without doing his job. Riveting:

Inside that house, I surrendered my honor and my manhood. Now I have to take both back, or live with the fact that they are right about me. That is unacceptable.
I rant and swear with abandon. Down the street, I see Sergeant Knapp taking care of my men like they are his little brothers. I want to cry I am so proud. I love these kids in a way I will never be able to express.
I see their faces. One by one. John Ruiz, Lucas Abernathy, Piotr Sucholas, Alex Stuckert, Victor Santos, Brett Pulley, Tristan Maxfield – they deserve more from me.
I stop pacing and let out a deep, rattling sigh. Only Ware remains near me on the street. Everyone else has moved away. Perhaps my display has convinced them I've gone mad.
But Ware is still here. The journalist. Our platoon's unofficial intel officer. We stare intently at each other.
“Fuck it,” I say.
“Fuck it,” agrees Ware.
That settles it. I'm going back in.You know things are not right with the world when you share a spiritual moment with a damn journalist. But there it is. Mick Ware and I are standing on the street, digesting the finality of the option we've just chosen.

He goes back in. The following is a bit long, but it is GRIPPING.

Somebody must die now. There is no turning back.
I bring my rifle to the ready up position. The M16 feels right; it is exactly what I need right now. Tucked firmly against my shoulder, I have a perfect eye line over the rifle's sights.
Across the room, I see the young insurgent standing behind the barriers. His head is down, still working on the RPG. The kid's gotta be drugged halfway to Neptune.
I take a step into the room; my feet slosh in the water and send ripples across the flooded floor. The M16's barrel pivots and stops when it is pointed at the insurgent's chest. I have the sight picture. My finger is about to end him.
He looks up. He stares at me with terror in his eyes. I know right then that I have surprised him. He doesn't have a chance, and he knows it, too.
“Jew!” he hisses in fear and spite, as if the word can protect him.
Close-quarters combat is instinctual, fought on the most basic and animalistic level of the human brain. Body language, eye contact, the inflection of a voice can turn a fight in a heartbeat. That is what happens here...
I pull the trigger and hit him right in the chest. He staggers back. I take a step to the left to move out of the doorway. The room's carpet is so waterlogged that my boots make a sucking sound with each step.
After a heartbeat's pause, I shoot him again. This time, my bullet goes into his pelvis. He spins completely around and falls across the barrier. Hands splayed, head draped, he gushes blood across the concrete. The water around him turns a milky crimson.
The last thing he expected was a rush through the doorway. That surprise saved my life and doomed his.
I can win this fight. I can do this.
A red heat forms on my face. The back of my neck tingles.Where's the second guy?There was not only a second guy lurking in the dark. Six well-placed insurgents waited in that house. Bellavia took them all out by himself.
Something slides along the wall on the other side of the doorway. I hear breathing. Somebody is close.
“I will kill you and take your dog collar.”
It is a malevolent, accented voice, low and totally devoid of fear. Its self-assured tone triggers a memory of the Nicholas Berg beheading video we watched at our base so long ago. It took them twenty-six seconds to decapitate him, and it was horrifying to watch. They were self-assured, too.
Now my imagination conjures a scene: my severed head, a grimy hand pulling my bloody dog tags free.
That's never gonna happen. Never—gonna—happen.
He's mind-fucking me, this one behind the door. I can't see him. I start to tremble. I fight it, but I can't control my body's physical reaction to this terror.
I can either go to pieces completely, or mind-fuck him back.
“Okay, listen up. I know you are not going to motherfucking stop. You know I am not going to motherfucking stop. La ta quiome.”
La ta quiome is my broken Arabic for “Do not resist.”
The enemy behind the door sniggers. He spits a curse in his native language. Sometimes it sounds like Arabic and sometimes it sounds totally different. Could that have been Farsi?
Am I fucking fighting Iranians in here?“Mommy will never find your body.”Bellavia shoots him. At least five times.
But there are more in the house. The fight isn't finished.He fingers his last magazine and thinks of his wife and son.
Deanna. Evan. I'm so sorry. I can't leave this fight. This is what I am. A warrior. It is my blood oath. If I turn my back on that again, I will be nothing and I can't face that.
I creep around the mattress, M16 at the ready. When I reach the doorway, I nearly slip. The water here is deeper and cloudy, probably with blood.
Neither corpse is in the doorway. I study the floor. Dark slicks of blood trail off into the stairwell room. It looks like one or both of them crawled into the kitchen.
Do I go finish them off and face the threat of somebody coming down the stairs again? I could get shot in the back as I go into the kitchen. Or do I go upstairs and face the bandolier-wearing Bogeyman from the closet? He's up there, somewhere in the darkness, waiting for me to do just that.
Or do I leave, get the rest of my squad and do this right.
No! I brought this on myself. I have to finish it.
Lawson is wounded. He's wounded because I didn't finish this the first time. I will not risk another man.
Fuck it.
I step through the doorway and onto the stairs. Eyes on the landing, I drop my current magazine out of the M16. I catch it and sling it into my pouch, then search for my last fresh one. I seize it and slam it home. The new mag makes a metallic snick as it slaps into place. I've got twenty-nine rounds in the mag and one in the pipe.
I begin to climb the stairs. There's no turning back now.
The image of my boy in his Halloween costume tumbles through my mind again. I hear his little voice in my head. It is the last thing he said to me on the phone before I left for Fallujah.
“I am going to save you, Daddy.”I'm sorry, buddy. I love you. I'm so sorry.He finds the “bandolier-wearing Bogeyman” upstairs. They're locked into hand-to-hand combat.
He clamped his teeth on the side of my thumb near the knuckle, and now he tears at it, trying to pull meat from bone. As he rages against the side of my right hand, his Adam's apple still in my clutch, I feel one of his hands move under me. Suddenly, a pistol cracks in the room. A puff of gun smoke rolls over us. The bullet hits the wall in front of me.
Where did that come from? Does he have a sidearm?
I cuff him across the face with my torn left hand. He rides the blow and somehow breaks my choke hold on him. I bludgeon his face. He tears at mine.
We share a single question of survival. Which one of us has the stronger will to live?
I gouge his left eye with my right index finger. I am astonished to discover that the human eye is not so much a firm ball as a soft, pliable sack. I try with all my might to send my finger all the way through. He wails like a child. It unnerves me, and I lose the stomach for this dirty trick. I withdraw my finger. Something metallic hits the cold concrete flooring. It is the same hand cannon that almost took my head off. His interest in trying to grab it opens a window of opportunity for me.
As he reaches for the pistol, I slam my left fist as hard as I can down onto his collarbone. He swings wildly at me again. My helmet's gone now. I have no idea where my M16 is. I've nothing but my hands left. And they're not enough. We will struggle and exhaust each other until the stalemate is broken by whoever's friends show up first.
I feel my strength ebbing. I don't have much left. He kicks at me, throwing his whole body into it. I've got to end this. But I don't know how.
“Surrender!”I'm ignored. He fights on, and I can sense he's encouraged. He's close to getting free of me. I swallow hard and gag. My mouth is full of blood, and I don't know whose. Both of us are slick with it; we have been bleeding all over each other. I taste bile through the blood. My body's maxed out. I don't know what to do.He remembers he has a knife on his belt.
I pounce on him. My body splays over his and I drive the knife right under his collarbone. My first thrust hits solid meat. The blade stops, and my hand slips off the handle and slides down the blade, slicing my pinkie finger. I grab the handle and squeeze it hard. The blade sinks into him, and he wails with terror and pain.
The blade finally sinks all the way to the handle.
I push and thrust it, hoping to get it under the collarbone and sever an artery in his neck. He fights, but I can feel he's weakening by the second.
I lunge at him, putting all my weight behind the blade. We're chin to chin now, and his sour breath is on my face. His eyes swim with hatred and terror. They're wide and dark and rimmed with blood. His face is covered with cuts and gouges. His mouth is curled into a grimace. His teeth are bared. It reminds me of the dogs I'd seen the day before.
The knife finally nicks an artery. We both hear a soft liquidy spurting sound. He tries to look down, but I've pinned him with the weight of my own body. My torn left hand has a killer's grip on his forehead. He can't move.
I'm bathed in warmth from neck to chest. I can't see it, but I know it is his blood. His eyes lose their luster. The hate evaporates. His right hand grabs a tuft of my hair. He pulls and yanks at it and tries to get his other hand up, but he is feeble.
“Just stop! Stop...Just stop! Rajahan hudna,” I plead. Please truce. We both know it is just a matter of time.
He gurgles a response drowned in blood...
His eyes show nothing but fear now. He knows he's going to die. His face is inches from mine, and I see him regard me for a split second. At the end, he says, “Please.”
“Surrender!” I cry. I'm almost in tears.
“No...” he manages weakly.
His face goes slack. His right hand slips from my hair. It hangs in the air for a moment, then with one last spasm of strength, he brings it to my cheek. It lingers there, and as I look into his dying eyes, he caresses the side of my face.
His hand runs gently from my cheeks to my jaw, then falls to the floor.
He takes a last ragged breath, and his eyes go dim, still staring into mine...
Tears blur my vision. I can hardly see him now, but he looks peaceful.
Why did he touch me like that at the end?
He was forgiving me...
“Sergeant Bell, Sergeant Bell, where are you?”
It's Lawson.
“Up here,” I manage.
“Sergeant Bell, are you okay? Why didn't you stay downstairs? Are you okay, man?”
“Yeah, I'm good. I'm good.”It's a lie. I wonder if I will ever be good again.

Buy the book from

Forgive me for leaving in the language I don't usually allow, but if a story is being told by someone such as this, his words do not need to be changed for my sensitivities.

Weren't you just glued to reading that? Such good writing. I felt I was right there. Can you just hear the snake like hiss as he spit out the word "Jew!?"

I for one, do not believe he was forgiving Bellavia. Perhaps he needed one final human touch before he went to meet his virgins. I am sure he was thrilled that he had fought a "Jew." Is it strange that I would be more cynical than this brave warrior?

Compare this to Fallujah today where on Oct. 20, Michael Ledeen, writing for the WSJ, famously quoted a Marine officer friend as saying he has been told by enlisted Marines, "There's nobody to shoot (in Fallujah), sir. If it's just going to be building schools and hospitals, that's what the Army is for, isn't it?"

A horrific battle won. Good God, we should be proud.

h/t BigDog

One more very good thing. Beautiful pictures from Michael Yon. Muslim Iraqi's come to a Catholic Church service to ask those Christian Iraqi's "to come home."