Joseph P. Bellavia
Staff Sergeant, United States Army
October 17, 2003
DoD Identifies Army Casualties
The Department of Defense announced today the death of three soldiers who were supporting Operation Iraqi Freedom on October 16, 2003, in Karbala, Iraq. The soldiers were attempting to negotiate with armed men who were congregating on a road near a mosque after curfew. The Iraqis opened fire killing three soldiers and wounding seven others. Killed were:
Lieutenant Colonel Kim S. Orlando, 43, of Tennessee.
The soldiers were assigned to the 716th Military Police Battalion, 101st Airborne Division (Air Assault), based in Fort Campbell, Kentucky. Orlando was the commanding officer of the 716th Military Police Battalion.
The incident is under investigation.
7 December 2004:
It's still hard for the widow of a soldier killed in Iraq to come home to an empty house full of memories.
Shipping care packages, attending meetings for spouses, and talking one-on-one with other widows, Christine Bellavia tries to cope with her loss by helping others.
"Just remember, even day-to-day, even if they aren't military, they could walk out the door and it may be the last time you see them," she tells spouses dealing with deployments.
To widows, she offers someone to talk to who truly understands.
Christine and her husband, Staff Sgt. Joseph Bellavia, had been together almost five years when he died in a firefight October 16, 2003. When he shipped out that March, Christine was several weeks pregnant, but later miscarried. The baby had been due November 7, 2003 -- the day the Army originally set for Joe's burial.
This month, Reader's Digest features a story on the Bellavias and two soldiers of the 194th Military Police Company whose lives changed forever that October night in Iraq.
"You can tell he was a nut," said Christine, 33, as she looked through a scrapbook. "It's really hard to cry because he was so funny, so full of life."
Included in belongings sent back from Iraq were pictures of Joe, 28, taking a camel ride and sitting on Saddam Hussein's throne. Christine just shakes her head and smiles as she looks through the pictures.
"That was him," Christine said. "He was always smiling, always cracking jokes."
But she also described him as considerate and romantic.
She shared stories about a puppy he adopted because neighborhood children came to the door begging him to adopt it so they could visit. She talked about a guy who wasn't too macho to teach himself to cross stitch so he could make her a unique anniversary gift, and a young soldier who swept her off her feet when they danced.
"He is so handsome," Christine said as she looked at a picture of her husband in his tuxedo on their wedding day.
On the night of his death, Joe and other members of the 716th MP Battalion were sent to a Karbala mosque to deal with a crowd of armed Iraqis breaking the 9 p.m. curfew.
According to news reports, the military police were attempting to negotiate when the crowd of Shiites wrestled U.S. commander Lt. Col. Kim Orlando to the ground. Another soldier fired a warning shot into the air and a deadly clash ensued.
Joe perished in the firefight, shot in the cheek with an AK-47 while trying to rescue Orlando, who also was killed. A third soldier, Cpl. Sean Grilley, and two Iraqi policemen also died. Seven soldiers were wounded in the attack.
Eight of the Iraqi gunmen were killed and 18 wounded.
Less than 16 hours later, as Christine was getting ready for work, the chaplain came to her door.
"Joe really believed in what he was doing," Christine said. "The Army was the best thing that ever happened to him. He was a career soldier."
She said the only thing that bothered him about his job was time away from home, but he wouldn't have been happy any other way.
"If someone told him, you're going to die, but five of your buddies are going to live, he wouldn't have done things any different," Christine said.
She's proud of the medals -- two Bronze Stars and a Purple Heart -- her husband earned while in Iraq.
Christine received a letter Joe had written "just in case" before his funeral at Arlington National Cemetery.
She waited until she was alone in the viewing room to read it. Outside the closed door, family and friends heard her cry for the first time.
Joe apologized to his "beloved princess" for not being able to fulfill her dream of being a mother.
"I'm sorry I was unable to return home to you," Joe wrote. "I hope you can forgive me for this."
Christine shared her own letter with Joe before placing it with him to be buried.
"I'm a completely different grieving widow than most people. I think because I have no regrets," Christine said. "We had figured it out."
"I may have only gotten five years, but those years were full. I'm 30 and I had what everybody looks for."
She said she is comforted knowing that Joe is watching over her and that she will see him again someday.
She wears Joe's wedding ring next to her own. A flag flies at half-staff in front of the couple's home and flowers that arrived for her birthday, just a week after Joe's death, are preserved above the china cabinet.
Christine has always been independent and kept busy, which she thinks has helped.
Joe's family still considers her one of their own and his friends have adopted her as a sister.
Christine, a full-time nursing student at Hopkinsville Community College, is pursuing a dream Joe encouraged.
Recently Christine went on her first date since Joe's death, but she's still not ready.
"I say ‘my husband' a lot. I talk about him a lot. I don't act like a single person," Christine said. "No one is ever going to measure up. They broke the mold with him."
Christine said she still talks to Joe and the hardest thing is thinking about being with someone else.
"My heart is so full," said Christine.
Christine Bellavia, whose husband, Sergeant Joseph Bellavia, 28, was killed October 16, 2003, in Karbala, acknowledges she's "a little jealous" of the other spouses. She looks forward to talking to her husband's buddies, but still dreads the homecomings.
"That's going to be the hardest thing for me," said Bellavia, 32, of Clarksville, Tennessee, who was pregnant when her husband left in March but miscarried shortly after.
He was one of three soldiers from the 101st's 716th Military Police Battalion killed by gunfire while trying to negotiate with armed men near a mosque.
The enormity of the emotions associated with seeing others return already hit her at the Baltimore airport. She was on the way home from her husband's funeral at Arlington National Cemetery.
A crowd applauded when a group of soldiers walked by. Tears formed in her eyes. She was holding the box with the American flag from her husband's burial inside.
"It was like they got to come home," said Bellavia, who is studying to be a nurse. "It was like not fair."
Bellavia takes some comfort in a letter written by her husband given to her after his death.
"Dear My Beloved Princess, Receiving this letter indicates that I was unable to keep my promise to you," it says. "I'm sorry I was unable to return home to you and fulfill your dream of being a mother ... I hope you can forgive me for this ... I love you. I always have and always will."
Neither Piche or Bellavia have children, but
those widows who do face additional hurdles as they work to help their
children understand why their father is not coming home.
Army Staff Sergeant Joseph P. Bellavia and his patrol were sent to a mosque in Karbala the night of October 16, 2003, to deal with a gathering of armed Iraqis breaking the 9 p.m. curfew. When the crowd, Shiite supporters of a local cleric, wrestled the U.S. commander to the ground, another soldier fired a warning shot into the air, and a deadly clash ensued.
Bellavia, 28, a Massachusetts native in the fabled 101st Airborne Division, perished in the firefight, shot in the face with an AK-47 while trying to rescue his commander, Lieutenant Colonel Kim S. Orlando of Tennessee, who was also killed. Corporal Sean R. Grilley of San Bernardino, California, also died, and seven soldiers were wounded in the attack.
That is what Bellavia's father knows of his son's death, the account he received from the Army.
This is what he knows of his son's last days:
"He said it was hot. He said it was miserable. But he said he was a soldier," Joseph F. Bellavia recalled. "People who have served in the military have a different meaning of the word 'freedom' than those who have never served.
"He was my son. He was my soldier. He was my hero."
Yesterday afternoon, the Bellavia family gathered at Arlington National Cemetery to bury their soldier and their hero. He was laid to rest in the cemetery's southern end, on a site framed by pin oak trees, at the end of a row of 29 other soldiers who also died during Operation Iraqi Freedom.
In the front row of folding chairs by the grave sat his older brother, Christopher, 30, of Portland, Tennessee, who is pursuing an EMT license; his twin, Jonathan, a police officer in Hendersonville, Tennessee; his stepmother, Janet, 40, an Army reservist; and his father, 56, a pharmaceutical company executive and Army veteran, who wore a dog tag with his son's picture on it.
At the end of the row, closest to the grave, was his wife of 31/2 years, Christine, 32, of Clarksville, Tennessee, who is studying for a nursing degree.
Behind them was his younger brother, Paul, 16, a high school junior in Wakefield, Massachusetts, where big brother Joseph grew up. His mother, Teresa, died four years ago.
Christine Bellavia nodded at the officer who handed her two Bronze Stars and a Purple Heart.
When the prayers and readings were over, Christopher Bellavia paused on his way back to the black limousine to survey the sea of headstones.
"I knew what he was getting into, but I never thought I'd be here," he said.
Joseph Bellavia was a Wakefield High School graduate, Class of 1994, and spent a semester at the University of Massachusetts at Lowell. He mowed lawns and worked at a fast-food restaurant to earn money for "his car, gas, insurance and dates," his father said, recalling that college didn't suit him at that point in his life.
"He said to me, 'I don't know what to do.' I said, 'I know.' I marched him down and enlisted him," his father said. "He told me it was the best thing I could have done for him. Maybe it made him grow up."
Bellavia took basic training at Fort McClellan, Alabama, then joined the military police protecting nuclear weapons in Nevada. He served in Germany for two years, guarding a training site, and then was sent to Fort Campbell, Kentucky, where he joined the 101st Airborne Division -- and where he met his wife.
Afterward, he was sent to South Korea, where
he helped guard the demilitarized zone. In March, he was deployed to Kuwait
and became part of the invasion force into Iraq.
On October 16, 2003 in Karbala, Iraq, while
serving with the 194th Military Police Company and 716th Military Police
Battallion out of Fort Campbell, Kentucky. The beloved husband of Christine
Bellavia; loving son of Joseph F. Bellavia and his wife, Janet; two brothers,
Christopher and Jonathan Bellavia. Also survived by grandparents, Joseph
and Yolanda Bellavia; and many other relatives and friends. Preceded in
death by his mother, Theresa Firmender. A vieiwng will be held at the LEE
FUNERAL HOME, INC., Branch Ave. and Coventry Way, Clinton, Maryland, on
Friday, October 31 from 10 a.m. until time of service at 11 a.m. Interment
Arlington National Cemetery, 2 p.m. In lieu of flowers, memorial contributions
may be made to the Huntington Disease Foundation, 711 W. 40th St., #354,
Baltimore, Maryland 21211.
When Jonathan Bellavia walked into the living room Friday morning and saw his sister-in-law Christine there, he knew right away that his family would never be the same.
Christine had just been notified that her husband, Bellavia's twin brother, had been killed in Iraq.
''He said there was a possibility that he might not come back,'' remembers Jonathan Bellavia, a Hendersonville policeman. ''He knew that. We knew there was a possibility, but we still thought we'd see him again. He knew he had a job to do. He loved what he did and he wanted to go.''
U.S. Army Staff Sergeant Joseph P. Bellavia, a military policeman, was killed October 16, 2003, as members of his 716th Military Police Battalion were trying to negotiate with a group of armed men standing on a road outside a mosque in Karbala, Iraq, after curfew. The 716th is part of the 101st Airborne Division.
According to the Army, the Iraqis opened fire on the MPs, killing Joseph Bellavia, Lieutenant Colonel Kim S. Orlando and Corporal Sean R. Grilley and wounding seven other soldiers.
Although Joseph Bellavia was stationed at Fort Campbell, Kentucky, and Jonathan lives in the Hendersonville area, the two hail from Wakefield, Massachusetts.
Their brother Chris, 30, and two years their senior, works for Sumner County's ambulance service and is assistant chief of the Highland Volunteer Fire Department in Portland.
When Joseph was transferred to Fort Campbell, the three brothers took advantage of their proximity to one another, getting together often and ''just goofing around,'' according to Jonathan Bellavia.
''We were like the Three Stooges. There was never a dull moment,'' he added.
Since Joseph's death, Chris and Jonathan have granted several interviews to local media. ''I want to get across to as many people as possible exactly who he was and what he was,'' said Chris Bellavia. ''Nobody pays much attention until something like this happens.''
Chris Bellavia said the two brothers want to take the opportunity they've been given to portray a soldier who loved his job, his wife, his family and his country. ''He wasn't afraid to go over there and give his life,'' Chris Bellavia added. ''He's definitely a hero.''
When asked how the two could return to work so soon after their loss, Jonathan was quick with his response. ''Joe had the world depending on him. He would not want us to let anyone down,'' he said. ''I have the citizens of Hendersonville depending on me, and Chris has the citizens of Portland depending on him.''
They noted how community service and sacrifice runs through their blood. Their grandfather served in the U. S. Navy during World War II, and their father is a retired Lieutenant Colonel.
''It's in our blood,'' Chris said. ''We enjoy
helping other people.'' In accordance with Joseph's wishes, the Bellavia
brothers will bury the brother they laughed with, cried with and often
competed against at Arlington National Cemetery next month.
US Army soldier who grew up in Wakefield was killed in Iraq Thursday during a firefight with gunmen guarding the headquarters of a Shi'ite cleric.
Staff Sergeant Joseph P. Bellavia, 28, was a military police team leader assigned to the 716th Military Police Battalion from the 101st Airborne Division based in Fort Campbell, Kentucky. He and two other U.S. soldiers were killed while attempting to negotiate with armed men who had gathered after curfew near a mosque in Karbala in southern Iraq, according to Fort Campbell officials.
The Iraqis opened fire, killing the three soldiers and wounding seven others, Fort Campbell said. By yesterday, 336 US service members have died since the beginning of military operations in Iraq, according to the Department of Defense.
Bellavia's twin brother, Jonathan, reached last night in Hendersonville, Tennessee, said his brother ''was always gung-ho.
'' `I can't' was never in his vocabulary,'' he said.
A highly motivated soldier and sports fan, Bellavia was inspired by military service from a young age. His father, Joseph F. Bellavia, is a retired lieutenant colonel in the Army, and still lives in Wakefield.
Bellavia's wife of 3 1/2 years, Christine, 31, said her husband, left for Iraq in March and would have returned home next spring. She received news of his death early yesterday.''He really loved his job and really loved his fellow soldiers.''
Bellavia grew up with his older brother, Christopher, and his twin in Wakefield, where he graduated from high school. After one semester at the University of Massachusetts in Lowell, he enlisted in the Army. That was nine years ago, his wife said. He was committed from an early age to serving his country, she said.
The couple met during previous postings at Fort Campbell, from which Bellavia left for Iraq in February 2002. He spent the previous year in Korea.
Bellavia's body will be returned to the United States October 19, his wife said, and he will be buried in Arlington National Cemetery. His funeral has not been scheduled.
Reuben Roque, 25, who spent time in Bellavia's Army company, said his friend was excited about going to Iraq.
''There was never a challenge he wouldn't take. He always got his mission accomplished and was always there for his friends and his soldiers,'' Roque said.
Christine Bellavia, who lives at the couple's home in Clarksville, Tennessee, and recently left the Air Force Reserve after serving for eight years, said her husband was a good motivator for his fellow soldiers.
''He was physically fit and kept his soldiers physically fit,'' she said. ''His standard was higher than everyone else's, and he motivated them to be the best that they could be.''
Roque said Bellavia always kept moving and liked to play sports, especially softball.
''He loved to keep active,'' he said. ''He almost had too much energy sometimes.''
His brother, Christopher, 30, of Portland, Tennessee, said Bellavia delighted in playing football and roughhousing with his three nephews.
Christine Bellavia said her husband was an ardent Miami Dolphins fan and a ''wonderful dancer.''
''Everybody that ever met him loved him,''
she said. ''He was always joking around and made everybody smile. I'm very
proud of him. He was my best friend.''
Photo By Michael Robert Patterson, May 2008
Photo By M. R. Patterson, 22 April 2004