Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel publicly stated yesterday the refusal to reconsider a Medal of Honor nomination for Marine Sgt. Rafael Peralta. The 25-year-old U.S. marine was fatally wounded in Fallujah, Iraq in 2004. The details of the marine’s death remain unclear.
Peralta was posthumously awarded the second highest military decoration in America, the Navy Blue Cross. Several eye-witness soldiers at Peralta’s death said the marine took the blow of a grenade, saving their lives. The Medal of Honor nomination was made by Peralta’s fellow soldiers.
However in 2008, Robert Gates, a former defense secretary refused the nomination. An expert, investigative panel concluded Peralta died of a shot to the head and could not have intentionally grabbed the grenade. The report said the grenade blast was more than six feet away from Peralta’s body.
In late 2012 Leon Panetta, Gates’ successor, approved this conclusion and the case looked closed. However, soon after Panetta’s sentiments went public, the California Congress requested Mr. Hagel re-open the class on the basis of new video and forensic information.
Hagel said he will “remain forever grateful” to the marine who sacrificed his life for America. But a statement from the pentagon Friday expressed a third refusal of the Medal of Honor nomination for Peralta. The statement read the “standard for the medal… is extremely high,” and also expressed that the Pentagon had taken “extraordinary measures to ensure…[the] nomination received full consideration.”
The case appears to have reached a final decision, though many in Peralta’s family will never forget the hero who sacrificed his life for a country he truly loved. Peralta, a Mexican native, illegally crossed the border to San Diego as a teenager to escape gang violence in Tijuana.
Peralta’s mother, in their early years in California, recalled seeing a commercial for the Marines where a young man bravely slays a dragon and appears in the end wearing a military uniform. “I want you to be like that…one day,” Rose remembers saying to her son.
The very day Peralta received his green card in 2000, he visited the recruiting offices of the marines. His mother Rose was excessively proud, but said sending her son to war in 2004 was difficult. He was shipped to the Anbar Province, a highly dangerous place for US troops.
Rose Peralta offered the media a picture of her eldest son’s last letter home, telling his brother to be strong and apologized to his mother for the grief he was causing her. The marine entered the battle knowing it would be his last.
Three defense secretaries have independently refused the nomination through what Hagel called an “exhaustive” process, but some believe Peralta was cheated by an arbitrary standard for the medal. Douglas Sterner, Vietnam War veteran and curator of the Military Times Hall of Valor, has expressed criticism of Hagel’s decision.
In the Pentagon statement, Hagel said the conclusion had been made “beyond reasonable doubt.” Sterner believes this is an impossibility, and considering Peralta’s questionable death, evidence should be taken from anecdotal accounts.
He offered an example: “In World War II, a sailor was…mortally wounded and in…dying, steered his ship out of the way of a torpedo and was awarded the Medal of Honor.” Sterner says today his Medal of Honor would be retracted because they could not prove beyond doubt he did not accidentally fallen on the wheel while dying.
Sgt. Peralta’s mother, distraught by the nomination refusals for the Medal of Honor, has never acknowledged the Navy Blue Cross award. Rose Peralta is willing only to accept the highest honor for her dead son.
By Erin P. Friar