Book Review: House to House

“A riveting and sober account of war in all its horror and glory.”

Authors: SSG David Bellavia with John R. Bruning

Publisher: Pocket Star (Kindle eBook Edition Reviewed)

Reviewing Author: Jim Zabek

housetohousebigMany of the memoirs written by contemporary veterans have a predictable structure. This is especially true of the writings of elite troops such as Navy SEALs. They often open with a discussion of how difficult their training was. I believe many these accounts spend so much time focused on training not only because it is difficult and dramatic, but also because many of the operations the authors undertook aren’t declassified. It’s difficult to write a memoir about operations that aren’t supposed to have taken place.

SSG Bellavia’s book is different. He was a regular infantryman in the US Army. He allots most of his time not in avoiding his combat experiences, but rather in bringing them to the reader’s attention. In the Author’s Note he clarifies that some events have been slightly altered, either due to timing so that events can be better understood in context, or reconstructed as best he could when he wasn’t there to directly witness the action himself. The result is a riveting and sober account of war in all its horror and glory.

The structure of House to House is chronologic. Starting with his deployment in Muqdadiyah and concluding in the epic assault of Fallujah, the reader will come as close to walking in a soldier’s footsteps as possible. The dust, the grit, the diarrhea, the blood, the fear, the death, and the victory will send the reader on an emotional cliff dive of abrupt ups and downs. While SSG Bellavia didn’t serve in an “elite” unit, it is difficult to imagine his platoon as anything other than elite. Hardened combat veterans, their experience would likely be familiar to any combat vet who had experienced conflict in an urban environment.

As compelling as the combat narratives are, House to House is more than just a gratuitous tale of combat. The reader will learn how close the men of these combat units become, they will experience the void between them and both the rear-echelon and commanding officers. The superficial reason of why this void exists is clear: those who haven’t experienced combat cannot ever really commune with those who have. And yet, as I read the account, I couldn’t help but reflect that some of disconnect was because the non-combatant troops were still learning – along with those in combat – what war was and how the Army works during wartime. Inevitably the Army of 2004 – 2005 would have much to learn before it became the Army of later years.

Further elevating House to House from a mere account of battle is the author’s tale of both what the war meant to him, his understanding of its necessity, and his struggle to balance the needs of his family with the needs of his brothers in arms. Though these issues are only addressed in the later stages of the book, they are no less significant. After the manic ride through combat we begin to see SSG Bellavia not as a fighting machine but as a husband and father who is deeply conflicted about his identity and duty. With no easy choices before him his duty and honor weigh heavily upon his shoulders, and we gain a real appreciation of him as a person, and by inference how similarly conflicted many soldiers must have felt.

In reflecting on who might want to read this book I find myself treading cautiously amongst the verbs and adjectives. To say that someone might “enjoy” this book risks being misconstrued as a warmonger. House to House is an intensely personal and graphic memoir. The reader is not sheltered from war’s grime. Despite, or perhaps because of, this direct, explicit account I would recommend House to House to anyone seeking a first-hand account of the Iraq War or someone seeking an understanding as to a combat soldier’s experience in general. It is an addition that any military historian should have in his collection. Having read it, words are not enough, but I must thank SSG Bellavia for sharing his story.

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