Rep. Duncan D. Hunter (R-CA) has re-initiated his drive that calls for the Department of Defense to reconsider its previous denials to recognize the heroic actions of Sgt. Rafael Peralta USMC to save his fellow Marines during house-to-house combat in Iraq. Hunter is asking the current USMC commandant to resubmit a nomination for Peralta. This is part of Hunter’s demand for a review of whether some recipients for valor in the field should have their awards reconsidered.
It was in 2004 that Sgt. Peralta was participating in combat operations in Iraq when he was shot in the head while participating in a room clearance. It was such then that a fragmentation grenade was tossed into the room by one of the Iraqi insurgents. In his last mortal act, Peralta reached out and grabbed the lethal grenade and pulled it under his body, thus shielding his buddies from the blast.
While Peralta did receive the highest honor accorded by the Navy – the Navy Cross – Hunter is asking USMC Commandant Gen. Robert Neller to submit a nomination to recognize Peralta’s valor and thus receive the nation’s highest distinction for bravery in combat – the Congressional Medal of Honor.
In a letter sent to the commandant on January 21, Hunter wrote “It is my hope that the Marine Corps will continue to support Peralta” for higher recognition. The Republican congressman has been on the forefront of recognizing the distinct valor of the fallen Marine. The commandant’s office said it would not publicly discuss such correspondence.
In June 2015, the surviving family members of Peralta accepted the Navy Cross – which is the nation’s second-highest distinction for combat valor – on his behalf. The family had refused to accept it since Peralta’s death.
At the time of his death, Peralta was 25 years old and served as a rifleman in the famed 1st Battalion, 3rd Marine Regiment.
During the deadly fighting in Fallujah, Iraq, Marines were going house to house searching for enemy combatants who used their knowledge of the Iraq city to evade capture while turning houses into reinforced redoubts. On November 15, 2004, after breaching a door in a building, Peralta and his fellow Marine came into “intense, close-range automatic weapons fire from multiple insurgents,” according to his Navy Cross citation.
The Marines returned fire. When Peralta fell mortally wounded with a wound to his head, the insurgents lobbed a grenade into the room as they fled. Peralta in his dying act, drew the grenade to himself and pulled the grenade to his body, thus absorbing the blast. Both the Navy and the Marine Corps had recommended Peralta for the Medal of Honor, based on Marine eyewitnesses present: the traditional standard of proof.
Arleigh Burke-class DDG-115 USS Rafael Peralta was launched in 2015
Defense Secretary Robert Gates, however, ruled in 2008 against the recommendation when medical experts claimed that Peralta was too gravely wounded to have acted consciously. Citing its own investigation and medical opinions, the Navy awarded the highest medal it can give – the Navy Cross - that branch can give without Pentagon approval. The navy has also named a destroyer warship in Peralta’s honor. Since then, besides Gates two other secretaries of defense have rejected appeals by members of Congress to give Peralta the Medal of Honor.
Since then, the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, Marine Gen. Joseph Dunford, has said that Peralta indeed deserves the nation’s highest honor. In addition, Secretary of Defense Ashton Carter is calling on the Pentagon to ensure that all medal recommendations since 9/11 be subjected to a consistent standard.
Writing back in 2012 that Peralta deserved the Medal of Honor, Rep. Hunter wrote: "The nomination met all the criteria. The action was in the spirit and tradition of the Medal of Honor, especially since another Marine, Cpl. Jason Dunham, was nominated and later posthumously awarded the Medal of Honor for smothering a grenade in Iraq. In Sgt. Peralta’s case, there were seven eyewitness accounts. Four were independent and consistent, asserting Sgt. Peralta reached for the grenade with his right arm. The fifth claimed it was the left arm, and two accounts made no mention of an arm. All seven maintained that Sgt. Peralta smothered the grenade.
"None of this satisfied former Defense Secretary Robert Gates. For the first and only time on record, a scientific review panel was assembled years after Sgt. Peralta’s death, determining the Marine was mortally wounded and could not have consciously grabbed the grenade. The panel also determined that the grenade detonated one to three feet from Sgt. Peralta’s left knee, not underneath him. More directly, the eyewitness accounts that have always been the standard for determining Medal of Honor awards were discarded, and the recommendations of the Marine Corps and Navy were ignored."
Hunter himself served as a Lieutenant in the Marine Corps, having served two tours in Iraq and one in Afghanistan. He currently holds the rank of Major in the Reserve Corps. Hunter's father, the former Rep. Duncan Lee Hunter (R-CA) - also served with distinction, having won the Bronze Star during the Vietnam War with the 75th Ranger Regiment.
Peralta was born in Mexico City in 1979. Once he became a legal resident of the United States in 2000, he volunteered for the US Marine Corps. On his bedroom walls in his family's home were only three items: a copy of the US Constitution, the Bill of Rights, and his Marine Corps graduation certificate.