September 18, 2008, - 9:48 pm
By Debbie Schlussel
**** SCROLL DOWN FOR UPDATE ****
Marine Sgt. Rafael Peralta is a role model for all Americans, whether they are immigrants like him or native born. He made the ultimate sacrifice, giving his life to save those of his fellow Marines.
Sadly, nitpickers in our military are denying him and his grieving family the Medal of Honor. It’s a travesty. This late patriot deserves the honor. He earned it in blood and gutted limbs.
This is the kind of one-time illegal alien I wish we had more of in America. His story makes me proud to be an American, while at the same time it is heartbreaking:
An immigrant from Mexico, Rafael Peralta enlisted in the Marine Corps the day after he received his green card in 2000. He adorned his bedroom at his parents’ home in San Diego with copies of the U.S. Constitution and the Bill of Rights and a picture of his boot camp graduation class.
And as he waited for combat in Fallouja, he wrote to his teenage brother: “You should be proud of being an American. Our father came to this country because it was the right place for our family to be. If anything happens to me, just remember I’ve already lived my life to the fullest.”
On Nov. 15, 2004, the 25-year-old sergeant volunteered for dangerous duty assisting an under-strength squad in clearing heavily armed insurgents from barricaded houses. As the squad rushed into one house, Peralta was wounded in the crossfire and knocked to the ground.
An insurgent rolled a grenade toward the Marines. Peralta, laying on the ground, reached out and grabbed the grenade, using his body to shield his fellow Marines from the blast, according to Marines who were there. He saved four squad members, maybe more, at the cost of his life.
But, despite this heroism, Peralta’s family is being denied one final honor for their dead son–the Medal of Honor. Instead, he will posthumously receive the Navy Cross, the second highest honor for combat bravery by a Marine.
Who can blame his mother, Rosa Peralta, for being angry and upset? Rafael Peralta deserves the Medal of Honor. He saved several lives and enabled his fellow soldiers, some of them fathers, to return home to their families. The soldiers say they saw him reach out and grab the grenade and put it under his body. But a committee of doctors and military figures insists that heroism isn’t involved since Peralta was shot in the head and could not have survived before he used his body to shield his fellow soldiers from the grenade. And that’s why they recommended against giving Peralta this honor:
A rare decision by Defense Secretary Robert Gates to reject a Marine Corps recommendation that one of its heroes receive the Medal of Honor has angered Marines who say Sgt. Rafael Peralta sacrificed his life to save theirs.
Peralta’s family was notified of the decision Wednesday by Lt. Gen. Richard Natonski, a top Marine Corps commander. Col. David Lapan, a Marine spokesman, said he was unaware of any recent award nomination that was denied in this way.
A Gates-appointed panel unanimously concluded that the report on Peralta’s action did not meet the standard of “no margin of doubt or possibility of error,” Pentagon spokesman Bryan Whitman said. The argument about whether to award Peralta the nation’s highest military honor centers on whether a mortally wounded Marine could have intentionally reached for the grenade after suffering a serious head wound.
For his actions during a Nov. 15, 2004, firefight in Fallujah, Iraq, Peralta will receive the Navy Cross, the service’s second-highest award for valor. The citation said Peralta, 25, covered a live grenade thrown by insurgents.
“I don’t want that medal,” Peralta’s mother, Rosa, said Wednesday. “I won’t accept it. It doesn’t seem fair to me.”
The decision is “almost like somebody called me a liar,” said Marine Sgt. Nicholas Jones, 25, who was with Peralta that day. Jones, a recruiter, said Peralta’s actions have become part of Marine Corps lore, as drill sergeants and officer-candidate instructors repeat it to new Marines. “His name is definitely synonymous with valor,” said Jones, who was wounded by the grenade blast.
“I know for a fact that I would have been killed . . . and that my daughter, Sophia, our new baby, Sienna, would not be here or coming into the world. And that my son, Noah, would have grown up without knowing his dad,” said Robert Reynolds, 31, a corrections officer and former Marine who was with Peralta that day.
In a Marine Corps investigation of the attack, Natonski said, “I believe beyond a shadow of a doubt” that the gravely wounded Peralta covered the grenade.
Natonski, commander of the U.S. Marine Corps Forces Command in Norfolk, Va., appeared disappointed by the news he brought the family, said David Donald, Rosa Peralta’s son-in-law. “He felt like Rafael deserved the Medal of Honor,” Donald said.
Peralta’s heroism has become Marine Corps legend, Lapan says. . . . Peralta had been shot in the head before he covered the grenade, a Marine investigation said. The report concluded he was hit by a ricochet that likely came from the gun of another Marine while they were clearing insurgents from a local home.
After he was wounded, the report said, Peralta scooped an insurgent grenade under his body, absorbed the blast and died, according to five of the Marines who were with Peralta during the firefight. . . .
Gates made his decision last week, Whitman said. He declined to provide any explanation other than the facts did not meet the standard for a Medal of Honor.
Five men have been awarded the Medal of Honor for service in Iraq, one for service in Afghanistan. All were posthumous.
Peralta first came to the United States from Mexico without legal documentation as a teen and joined the Marines the day he got his green card on April 17, 2000. He later became a naturalized citizen. . . .
According to [the Marine Corps] investigation, Marines scrambling for cover after an insurgent threw a grenade toward them plainly saw Peralta reach with his arm to “scoop” the grenade under his body.
Scorch marks were later found on his flak jacket, along with embedded pieces of shrapnel and a part of the grenade fuse, the reports show. “There’s no way that grenade got under the center of mass of his body without him putting it there,” said Reserve Marine Lt. Col. Scott Marconda, who investigated the incident in 2004 as a major and judge advocate. “I’m not a cheerleader. It is what it is. And my point is: I believe that he did that.”
The Marine investigation highlighted a key area of controversy: whether the gunshot wound to the back of Peralta’s head from a ricochet left him unable to function.
Col. Eric Berg, an Army pathologist who autopsied Peralta’s remains, said in the 2005 report that the head wound would have been “nearly instantly fatal. He could not have executed any meaningful motions.”
Berg said Monday that he stands by his conclusions. Four other experts – Peralta’s battalion surgeon, and two neurosurgeons and a neurologist who examined the autopsy reports – said Peralta could have knowingly reached for the grenade. They say the ricochet was traveling at a “low velocity” and would not have immediately killed him.
Miracles often happen that cannot be explained by accepted medicine or science. And, yes, some (including me) consider it divine intervention. Sometimes, there are incidents of superhuman strength. Some, such as the stories of mothers lifting cars off their kids, are often mythical. But sometimes superhuman and unscientific things happen that defy proven medical science. I believe this is one of those cases, and so do Peralta’s fellow soldiers, commanding officers, and family.
Rafael Peralta is not just an American hero. His is that rare case of self-sacrifice that is, indeed, worthy and deserving of the Medal of Honor. His fellow soldiers know what they saw.
It speaks volumes that our government defied all reason to give Iraq trutherist Jessica Lynch–an incompetent soldier who failed to follow orders, mishandled her weapon, etc.–the Bronze Star (because she’s a woman), but won’t exercise the reason and goodwill necessary here to give an American soldier his due for making the ultimate sacrifice.
Give the guy his medal. Sgt. Rafael Peralta earned it.
We’re from the government, and we’re here to help you.
**** UPDATE, 9/19/08: Reader Sean, who served our country in the military, writes:
When I first saw the story of this Marine who will posthumously receive the Navy Cross instead of the Congressional Medal of Honor, I thought that it was a case where perhaps there wasn’t enough direct testimony, or there was some other reason it was downgraded. At the risk of sounding sacrilegious, the Medal of Honor is sort of the military equivalent of sainthood. Once you receive The Medal you have been permanently placed among the pantheon of heroes – many of whom received their award posthumously– whose uncommon valor is the epitome of courage and selflessness to which all soldiers should strive.
But after reading your post, I’m deeply troubled. It sounds like some panel in the bowels of the Pentagon decided he couldn’t have lived long enough to consciously roll the grenade under his body. This was in spite of the testimony of several eyewitnesses and medical experts. But that also begs a question. If he didn’t actively do it himself, that would mean he didn’t commit ANY act of bravery and he shouldn’t receive any award other than a purple heart for his mortal wounds.
It may sound like I’m putting my tin foil hat on, but I think there’s more to this story than we know. This Marine and his family deserve better.