Honoring a Marine hero
Review board should approve Medal of Honor for Sgt. Peralta
US. Marine Corps Sgt. Rafael Peralta was a hero who was denied full recognition for his acts of valor. This injustice should be reversed.
Sgt. Peralta was in the thick of the fight during the bloody Second Battle of Fallujah in November 2004. While clearing a house, his unit came under close-quarters fire from insurgents, and Sgt. Peralta was felled by a round to the back of his head. While he was lying wounded, a grenade thrown by fleeing insurgents landed near him. “Without hesitation and with complete disregard for his own personal safety,” an official account reads, “Sgt. Peralta reached out and pulled the grenade to his body, absorbing the brunt of the blast and shielding fellow Marines only feet away.” The grenade blast ended the Marine’s life.
For his self-sacrifice, Sgt. Peralta was recommended for the Medal of Honor. Seven eyewitnesses attested to the events, though just two were required. The Marine Corps chain of command signed off on the award, and then-secretary of the Navy Donald C. Winter approved the nomination. But when it arrived on the desk of then-secretary of Defense Robert M. Gates, the process stalled. For reasons never fully explained, Mr. Gates convened an unprecedented review board to go back over the facts. The board determined that Sgt. Peralta’s initial wound was so severe that he could not have knowingly pulled the grenade under him and that the grenade in fact detonated near his left knee. This finding, coming years later, contradicted eyewitness accounts and was at odds with physical evidence. With the Medal of Honor blocked, Sgt. Peralta was awarded the Navy Cross — yet the award citation recited the facts as originally described.
Efforts by former Rep. Duncan Hunter, California Republican, to have Mr. Gates reconsider the decision were unsuccessful. His son and successor in Congress, Rep. Duncan D. Hunter, a Marine veteran who also fought at Fallujah, stayed on the case. He introduced language in the National Defense Authorization Act to name a ship after Sgt. Peralta, and last month, the Navy announced that a new Arleigh Burke-class destroyer would bear his name.
Meanwhile, new evidence backs up the original story and undercuts the findings of the Gates review board. Forensic pathologist Dr. Vincent Di Maio found that Sgt. Peralta’s head wound wasn’t severe enough to prevent him from consciously pulling the grenade toward his body. Graphic videos taken at the scene by Marine combat cameramen show Sgt. Peralta with bloody wounds to the abdomen but no sign of blood on the back or left side of his leg, as claimed in the Gates report.
The Navy awards board is reviewing the case in light of the new evidence. Navy Secretary Ray Mabus and Defense Secretary Leon E. Panetta have an opportunity to right a senseless wrong. The preponderance of evidence indicates that Sgt. Peralta did what those who were present at the scene said he did: knowingly and willingly sacrifice his life to save fellow Marines. He upheld the highest traditions of the Marine Corps and the U.S. naval service. Before leaving for Fallujah, Sgt. Peralta wrote to his 14-year-old brother, “Be proud of me, bro . . . and be proud of being an American.” A grateful nation should demonstrate its pride in Sgt. Peralta’s heroism.