MILITARY: Pentagon reaffirms denial of highest medal to Marine
Camp Pendleton Sgt. Rafael Peralta died during 2004 Fallujah battle
By TERI FIGUEROA - Staff Writer | Wednesday, November 19, 2008 7:31 PM PST ∞
The Department of Defense has reaffirmed its decision not to award the Medal of Honor to Sgt. Rafael Peralta, a Camp Pendleton Marine who witnesses say threw himself on a grenade to save his colleagues in Fallujah, Iraq in 2004.
U.S. Rep. Duncan Hunter said Wednesday he was disappointed by the decision to award Peralta the Navy Cross instead.
Read the Secretary of Defense letter and the Congressional letter to the President.
"Clearly, Sergeant Peralta deserves the Medal of Honor," Hunter, R-Alpine, said in a written statement.
George Sagba, an attorney for Peralta's family, said the family intends to push its appeal after President-elect Barack Obama appoints a new defense secretary.
The battle over whether Peralta should receive the nation's highest military honor came down to differing interpretations of whether the 25-year-old consciously pulled the grenade underneath his dying body to absorb the coming explosion to protect fellow troops, as eyewitnesses said he did.
The Pentagon's decision in September to award Peralta the Navy Cross, the second-highest military honor, caused a furor among Peralta's friends and family, and prompted San Diego County's congressional delegation and California's two U.S. senators to ask President Bush to review the decision.
In a letter to Hunter dated Tuesday, Secretary of Defense Robert Gates said that five independent experts reviewed the evidence and found it did not meet the required standard.
"After careful consideration, I concurred with this conclusion," Gates wrote.
Gates said he'd been asked by Bush to respond to the letter from the congressional delegation.
Peralta's mother, who lives in San Diego, said Wednesday that the decision to deny her son the Medal of Honor was unjust.
"I want him (Gates) to explain to me what his doubt is," Rosa Peralta said. "What doubt does he have? I want an explanation."
A San Diego resident when he joined the Marines, Peralta died Nov. 15, 2004, when he and fellow Marines attached to Camp Pendleton's 1st Marine Division attacked three insurgents inside a house in Fallujah during one of the largest battles of the Iraq war.
Peralta had been wounded by an accidental shot to the head from another Marine and was on the floor when the grenade was tossed into the room.
The Marines with Peralta that day say they saw him reach out with his right arm and drag the grenade to his body moments before it exploded.
In his statement Wednesday, Hunter pointed to those witness accounts in arguing that Peralta deserved the Medal of Honor.
"In matter of fact, many awards for valor in the history of our military have been given for actions which represented the last, fleeting moments of life that, even after medical examination left experts wondering how someone could possibly do what they did," Hunter said. "The answer has always been to trust their comrades in arms and eyewitness accounts.
"In Sergeant Peralta's case, we should do no less."
Staff Writer Edward Sifuentes and the Associated Press contributed to this report.
Contact staff writer Teri Figueroa at (760) 740-5442 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
Statement from U.S. Congressman Duncan Hunter (R-CA):
“I am disappointed in Secretary Gates’ decision. I am disappointed because eye witness accounts from Marines involved in the firefight clearly indicate that Sergeant Peralta’s actions were deliberate. One of these Marines said that Sergeant Peralta ‘reached over and pulled the grenade into himself.’ Another said he ‘hugged the grenade and saved the lives of the Marines in the room with him.’
“Given this uncontroverted testimony, which is consistent with the Navy Cross citation, I can not disagree more with DoD’s conclusion. DoD medical experts doubt that Sergeant Peralta had the physical capacity to cover the grenade with his body after being wounded, despite the fact that his squad members said they saw him do it with their own eyes.
“From the information provided by DoD, my understanding is that the neurosurgeon did not say that Sergeant Peralta’s actions were impossible but, rather, that the evidence did not meet the ‘no doubt standard necessary.’ Thus, the statements by those Marines who stood within a few feet of Sergeant Peralta should be given primacy.
“In matter of fact, many awards for valor in the history of our military have been given for actions which represented the last, fleeting moments of life that, even after medical examination, left experts wondering how someone could possibly do what they did. The answer has always been to trust their comrades in arms and eyewitness accounts. In Sergeant Peralta’s case, we should do no less.
“Clearly, Sergeant Peralta deserves the Medal of Honor. I hope the Secretary will immediately reconsider this decision.”
Both the article and the statement can be seen at:http://nctimes.com/articles/2008/11/19/military/z642ecba607a103198825750700054c7c.txt