In an ongoing effort to honor fallen Marine Sgt. Rafael Peralta, a member of Congress has requested that the current Commandant of the Marine Corps re-submit a nomination for the Medal of Honor. In Iraq 2004, Peralta was shot in the head during a room clearance right before a frag grenade was tossed in by an insurgent. His last action was to reach out and grab the grenade and pull it under his body to protect his teammates. Previous requests for an upgrade from a Navy Cross to a Medal of Honor have been denied twice by previous defense secretaries.
Rep. Duncan Hunter is pushing again for the late Marine Sgt. Rafael Peralta to be recognized with the Medal of Honor, timing his request to a broader review of whether certain combat-valor medal recipients should have their awards upgraded.
Hunter (R-Alpine) on Thursday wrote to the commandant of the Marine Corps, Gen. Robert Neller, asking that he submit a new nomination for Peralta to get the nation’s highest distinction for combat bravery. Hunter has been a major voice in the protracted controversy over whether Peralta’s wartime actions in Iraq have been undervalued.
“It is my hope that the Marine Corps will continue to support Peralta” for higher recognition, Hunter wrote. Neller’s office said its policy was to not publicly discuss such correspondence.
Peralta’s family accepted the Navy Cross — the second-highest medal — on his behalf in June after having refused to do so for years. On Saturday, his younger brother, Rick Peralta, said the family had no comment “on this extremely difficult situation.”
Rafael Peralta, 25, was an infantry rifleman with the 1st Battalion, 3rd Marine Regiment.
On Nov. 15, 2004, the Marines were clearing houses of enemy fighters in Fallujah, Iraq. After breachers kicked in the door to a building, Peralta and his squad walked into a back room and encountered “intense, close-range automatic weapons fire from multiple insurgents,” according to his Navy Cross citation.
As the Marines returned fire, Peralta fell to the ground, mortally wounded from a gunshot to the head. The insurgents threw an enemy fragmentation grenade as they fled. When it landed by Peralta, he “reached out and pulled the grenade to this body, absorbing the brunt of the blast,” the citation said.
The Marine Corps and Navy Department recommended the Medal of Honor based on eyewitness accounts by fellow Marines, the traditional standard of proof.
However, then-Defense Secretary Robert Gates decided against it after a panel of forensic and medical experts determined that Peralta probably was too gravely wounded to have acted consciously.
The Navy Department, citing its own investigations and medical opinions, authorized the Navy Cross in 2008, the highest medal that branch can give without Pentagon approval. It also chose to name a destroyer warship after Peralta.
Two more defense secretaries after Gates have rejected appeals by members of Congress to give Peralta the Medal of Honor.