House to House - a soldier's story

Saturday, October 13, 2007

A few weeks ago, one of the blips in the blogosphere was Hollywood goes to war (thanks Hollywood!). I read the articles but, outside of rolling my eyes, didn't pay much attention to them. Hollywood is predictable after all. However, later in the day I was in a bookstore and, on a table of new books, I saw House to House, by SSG David Bellavia (with John R. Bruning). I plunked down the cost of a couple of movie tickets and bought it.

Bellavia is a former Staff Sargent in the First Infrantry Division who saw action in Iraq. He's received the Silver Star, the Bronze Star (v), and the Conspicuous Service Cross and has been nominated for a Distinguished Service Cross as well as recommended for a Medal of Honor. House to House is his first person account of his experiences in the war. It starts with him in Diyalla province, but quickly moves to the center piece of the book -- the Battle for Fallujah.

It's a very good read. Using salty language, he does an excellent job of setting the scenes and capturing the dedication, tension and black humor of his unit, and himself, as the Battle for Fallujah unfolds. It starts with his company in the jumping-off point for entering Fallujah, where he sketches out most of the main persons of the narrative as they practice the "Hurry up and wait" all veterans will be familiar with. The story then moves into the eerily deserted streets of Fallujah, where they discover many of the buildings booby-trapped with IEDs and encounter bouts of stiff resistance.

The climax of his story is when his unit walked into an ambush in a house wired with propane tanks. They were pinned down under heavy fire, and eventually managed to withdraw. Furious, and with his blood up, Bellavia re-entered the house and killed the six insurgents inside, one with a knife as they desperately struggled with each other on the floor of a room.

Below is an excerpt from the beginning of the ambush (any spelling mistakes are likely from my shoddy typing).

This ambush is the product of study, an enemy who has thoroughly analyzed out strengths and weaknesses. They've created a fighting position that negates our advantages of firepower and mobility. All we can do is fight them at point-blank range with the weapons in our hands.

I thought we were ready for everything. We're not ready for this.

Over in the far corner of the living room, Misa stirs. He pulls out a grenade.

"Frag out. Frag out," he shouts.

This mortifies Fitts. "No," he hisses. Misa freezes. Fitts continues, "They'll bowl that bitch right back at us. You've got no idea where they're at."

Misa is undeterred. He peers around the doorway and reports, "I see them... I see where they're at."

Sergant Hugh Hall sees Ware and Yuri and tells them, "Get behind something, man!"

"Is anybody hit?" Doc Abernathy calls from outside,

"Leme frag out," Misa will not let this go.

Fitts will have none of it. "You don't know how many fucking dudes are in here. Don't frag out. Put it away." Misa abandons the grenade idea.

Another flurry of bullets laces the living room. The tracers cleave the smoky air, sending tendrils spinning off into the darkness and briefly clearing the air in the doorway.

I risk a look into the stairwell room. In the fire's crimson glow, I spot one of the insurgents. He's crouched behind the Jersey barriers holding an AK in each hand. He's grinning like a fiend, and I notice his perfectly straight, white teeth.

How the fuck is that possible? We've got field dentists, a health plan, and all the trappings of modern medicine, and our teeth look like caramel popcorn. Apparently, these cocksuckers don't like Red Man.