Medal of Honor for Marine Sgt. Peralta: Decision May Be Near (Updated)

Some very disappointing breaking news:

UT San Diego reports that a posthumous Medal of Honor will not be issued to San Diego Marine Sgt. Rafael Peralta.

More from UT San Diego:

Hunter spokesman Joe Kasper said Hunter was told Tuesday that after several months of reviewing newly submitted evidence that the congressman maintained shows Peralta consciously pulled a grenade into his body during combat in Iraq, the Defense Department said it will not upgrade a Navy Cross to the Medal of Honor.

Kasper said the word came from Jeh Johnson, general counsel for the Defense Department.

“The message from Mr. Johnson, in addition to questioning the eyewitness accounts, was that the forensic review conducted by (former Defense Secretary Robert) Gates, which led to the 2008 decision to downgrade the MoH to the Navy Cross, is still reliable. He also indicated that upgrading the award now would require overturning the decision of a previous secretary.”

Additional reaction will be published shortly

UPDATE:

UT San Diego:

Navy Secretary Ray Mabus said Monday during a visit to Camp Pendleton that the Navy Department is waiting for a decision from the Pentagon about reconsideration of the Medal of Honor for Sgt. Rafael Peralta.

[::]

Now the Peralta case is before Defense Secretary Leon Panetta, who pledged last summer to take a fresh look at the case and consult with Navy officials.
Mabus said he had recommended the Medal of Honor for Peralta. He said he did not know if a decision from Panetta was imminent.

Rep. Duncan Hunter, R-Alpine, and other lawmakers asked defense officials this year to reconsider Peralta for the Medal of Honor, in light of a video and forensic report the congressman described as new evidence.

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Original Post:

Back in March of this year, it seemed that justice was about to be done in the case of Marine Sgt. Rafael Peralta — a case where, in my opinion and in the opinion of so many others, valor was stolen at the highest levels.

As written here, it all started almost exactly eight years ago — on November 14, 2004 — when a young Marine Corps Sergeant, Rafael Peralta, a scout team leader with Company A, 1st Battalion, 3rd Marine Regiment, was participating in Operation AL FAJR, the U.S. military effort to retake Fallujah, Iraq.

According to the citation that should have merited the award of the Medal of Honor, this is what Peralta did on the battlefields of Iraq:


Clearing scores of houses in the previous three days, Sergeant Peralta’ asked to join an under strength squad and volunteered to stand post the night of 14 November, allowing fellow Marines more time to rest. The following morning, during search and attack operations, while clearing the seventh house of the day, the point man opened a door to a back room and immediately came under intense, close-range automatic weapons fire from multiple insurgents. The squad returned fire, wounding one insurgent. While attempting to maneuver out of the line of fire, Sergeant Peralta was shot and fell mortally wounded. After the initial exchange of gunfire, the insurgents broke contact, throwing a fragmentation grenade as they fled the building. The grenade came to rest near Sergeant Peralta’s head. Without hesitation and with complete disregard for his own personal safety, Sergeant Peralta reached out and pulled the grenade to his body, absorbing the brunt of the blast and shielding fellow Marines only feet away. Sergeant Peralta succumbed to his wounds. By his undaunted courage, intrepid fighting spirit, and unwavering devotion to duty, Sergeant Peralta reflected great credit upon himself and upheld the highest traditions of the Marine Corps and the United States Naval Service.

Because of his heroic acts, Sgt. Peralta was nominated for the Medal of Honor, our nation’s highest award for valor, by the Commandant of the Marine Corps and by the Secretary of the Navy.

However, something very peculiar happened to Sgt. Peralta’s recommendation when it reached the Pentagon, and perhaps even at the White House.

Neurosurgeons and pathologists claimed that Peralta’s sweeping a grenade under his body to protect his fellow Marines may not have been a deliberate act because his head wound was so severe that he could not have made a deliberate decision to reach for the grenade. This, even though fellow Marines who were there made official statements that “they saw [Peralta] reach for the grenade and that they believed he saved the lives of at least four men in doing so” and even though this issue was investigated during the Medal of Honor nomination process and Marine Lt. General Richard F. Natonski, stuck with his recommendation: “I believe Sergeant Peralta made a conscious, heroic decision to cover the grenade and minimize the effects he knew it would have on the rest of his Marine team.”

There have also been reports that the award of such decorations has been “politicized” or worse: “After Sgt. Rafael Peralta was denied the Medal of Honor in 2008, questions were raised about whether Peralta’s onetime status as an illegal immigrant played a part in the decision.” (Peralta was originally from Mexico)

We may never know exactly what went awry at the Pentagon, or at the White House. But we know all too well the sad conclusion to this chapter.

On September 17, 2008, Rafael Peralta’s family was notified by Marine Lt. Gen. Natonski that Secretary of Defense Robert Gates had rejected the Marine Corps’ recommendation for Sgt. Peralta to receive the Medal of Honor. Instead, Peralta would be receiving the Navy Cross.

Incredibly, the Gates’ appointed panel unanimously claimed that Peralta’s actions did not meet the standard of “without any possibility of error or doubt”. The central argument was as to whether the already critically wounded Peralta could have intentionally reached for the grenade, shielding his fellow Marines from the blast with his own body.

Naturally, there has been a huge outcry at this injustice, by fellow Marines, the media, elected officials, the American people and, naturally, by Sgt. Peralta’s family, who refused to accept the Navy Cross.

Numerous attempts have been made by influential officials, including U.S. Congressmen Bob Filner, Duncan L. Hunter and Duncan D. Hunter and almost the entire California Congressional delegation to support the Medal of Honor award, both under President Bush and now under President Obama.

As mentioned, back in March of this year, it seemed as if justice was about to be done when Federal lawmakers announced they had obtained information previously unavailable to military investigators that proved the Navy should not have disqualified the San Diego Marine from being posthumously awarded America’s highest military honor.

U.S. Rep. Duncan Hunter sent a formal request from the area’s congressional delegation to Navy Secretary Ray Mabus urging him to reconsider Sgt. Rafael Peralta for the Medal of Honor in a last-ditch effort before the deadline ends. Four other San Diego-area representatives and California Sens. Dianne Feinstein and Barbara Boxer also signed the letter.

Now, nine months later, we may finally learn if justice will indeed be done.

The Los Angeles Times reported over the weekend “Leon Panetta, appears on the verge of announcing the result of his review of Gates’ decision-–based on a video of the aftermath of the house-clearing mission in which Peralta was killed.”

Rep. Duncan Hunter (R-Alpine), who served in Iraq and Afghanistan as a Marine officer, believes Panetta’s decision will be announced within weeks and says, “The only reasonable course of action, in light of his sacrifice and new evidence, is to award [Peralta] the military’s highest award for combat valor,” according to the Times.

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Author: DORIAN DE WIND, Military Affairs Columnist

  • http://taylormarsh.com TAYLOR MARSH, Guest Voice Columnist

    Thanks so much for this piece, Dorian.

    Award. The. Medal.

  • DORIAN DE WIND, Military Affairs Columnist

    Thanks, Taylor. Let’s hope for the best — the right thing