A Marine’s story, from boy­hood to bat­tle­field

‘Act of Honor’ chron­i­cles the life of im­mi­grant and war hero Sgt. Rafael Per­alta, who died sav­ing com­rades’ lives.

Los Angeles Times - - Calendar - By

Tony Perry

In the mid­dle of “Act of Honor,” a His­tory Chan­nel doc­u­men­tary on the brav­ery of Marine Sgt. Rafael Per­alta, a fel­low Marine re­mem­bers see­ing Per­alta dur­ing the bat­tle for Fal­louja in late 2004.

“He still had that wild look in his eye — fresh out of a fight,” says Sgt. Catcher Cuts the Rope, a Na­tive Amer­i­can. “But he wasn’t scared or any­thing like that.”

Not that much later, Per­alta vol­un­teered to be part of a squad sent to rout in­sur­gents from their bar­ri­caded lair in the most vi­o­lent neigh­bor­hood of a vi­o­lent city.

Search­ing a home for in­sur­gents, he was hit by a blast of gun­fire and knocked to the floor. But when an in­sur­gent rolled a grenade to­ward the Marines, Per­alta man­aged to smother it with his body, los­ing his life in the blast but sav­ing the lives of five other Marines.

For his hero­ism that day, Per­alta has be­come a leg­end among in­fantry Marines and has been nom­i­nated for the Medal of Honor.

Now the His­tory Chan­nel has done a first-rate job of trac­ing Per­alta’s life as an im­mi­grant from Mex­ico through his en­list­ment into the Marine Corps to his bat­tle­field hero­ism and the dev­as­tat­ing im­pact his death had on his fam­ily in San Diego. The ef­fort will be broad­cast in English on the His­tory Chan­nel and in Span­ish on the His­tory Chan­nel en es­pañol.

The doc­u­men­tary in­cor­po­rates a video diary of the Fal­louja fight taken by a Marine in Per­alta’s out­fit, in­ter­views with fam­ily mem­bers and Marines, and glimpses into boot camp and a pro­gram run by the Marine Corps for teenagers called the Devil Pups.

In the video diary, Gun­nery Sgt. Ja­cob Mur­dock, ex­hausted and hor­ri­fied by the bat­tle­field, says sim­ply, “We’re on the hunt now. We’re past pre­serv­ing life. There are no friends to our front.”

Per­alta is seen as a high-spir­ited young man, pos­sessed of nat­u­ral lead­er­ship. Still, he had a pre­mo­ni­tion he would not sur­vive Iraq. He re­quested that he be bap­tized by a chap­lain, who fash­ioned a font out of boxes and a plas­tic liner.

On the eve of bat­tle he wrote a let­ter to his younger brother Ri­cardo, telling him, “You should be proud of be­ing a U.S. cit­i­zen.”

The in­ter­views with Per­alta’s fam­ily are heart-rend­ing. Ri­cardo speaks of want­ing to en­list in the Marine Corps to avenge his brother.

He and sis­ter Karen both went through Devil Pups af­ter their brother’s death.

“I think he’s with me spir­i­tu­ally so I don’t feel alone,” Ri­cardo says.

Be­cause of “Act of Honor,” Rafael Per­alta will be with us all, as a sym­bol of ser­vice and sac­ri­fice.

tony.perry@la­times.com

The His­tory Chan­nel

EARLY YEARS: Rafael Per­alta as a smil­ing sec­ond-grader in Ti­juana. The doc­u­men­tary de­picts the young Marine as a nat­u­ral leader.

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