Gates’ Memoir and Marine Sgt. Rafael Peralta

Rafael Peralta

In my “Gates Is No Rumsfeld,” I said:

At a more personal level, I was — and still am — disappointed that Gates did not support awarding the so clearly well deserved Medal of Honor to Marine Sgt. Rafael Peralta .

As many others and I have already written numerous pieces about both the heroism that prompted the Commandant of the Marine Corps to nominate Marine Sgt. Rafael Peralta for the Medal of Honor and the injustice that followed at the Pentagon, I will quote from some previously published material:

First, the citation that should have merited the Medal of Honor for this young hero:

… for extraordinary heroism while serving as Platoon Guide with 1st Platoon, Company A, 1st Battalion, 3d Marines, Regimental Combat Team 7, 1st Marine Division, in action against Anti-Coalition Forces in support of Operation AL FAJR, in Fallujah, Iraq on 15 November 2004. 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.

Incredibly, on Sept. 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.

The Gates’ appointed panel claimed that Peralta’s actions did not meet the standard of “without any possibility of error or doubt.”

Even more incredible was the central argument presented by the panel that the critically wounded Peralta could not have intentionally reached for the grenade, shielding his fellow Marines from the blast with his own body.

Even more incredible because in the very same citation awarding Peralta the Navy Cross we read the following words:

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.

Numerous attempts have been made by many influential Members of Congress, the entire Hawaii House of Representatives, many organizations and thousands of individuals and even the Secretary of the Navy, Ray Mabus — while serving under Secretary of Defense Gates — to award the Medal of Honor posthumously to Sgt. Peralta.

Read about them here.

On Thursday, the Marine Corps Times wrote:

In a shocking revelation in his soon-to-be-released memoir, former Defense Secretary Robert Gates said he had approved a Medal of Honor recommendation for late Marine Sgt. Rafael Peralta in 2008, before controversy convinced him to rescind the approval.

Peralta’s award has been the subject of dispute and speculation since he was awarded the Navy Cross, a significant but lesser honor, for heroism in the 2004 battle that would cost his life in Fallujah, Iraq. The Medal of Honor package that the Marine Corps submitted for Peralta claimed he had covered a live grenade with his body to protect his fellow Marines while on a house-clearing mission.

In his book “Duty: Memoirs of a Secretary at War,” Gates said he was convinced by the evidence the Marines presented, and had submitted his medal recommendation to the president before deciding to withdraw it.

But soon after, Gates “learned of a complaint made to the Defense Department Inspector General that alleged Peralta could not have acted consciously to cover the grenade and save fellow Marines’ lives…” and “decided that the only way to clear the air quietly was to ask a special panel to look into the allegation,” he wrote in his memoir according to the Times.

“The panel concluded unanimously that, with his wounds, Peralta could not have consciously pulled the grenade under him,” Gates wrote. “I had no choice but to withdraw my approval.”

Still, the Times reports, “Gates said, he did not consider the door closed on Peralta’s award”:

“Perhaps someday, should additional evidence and analysis come to light, the criteria for the award will be deemed to have been met, and Sergeant Peralta will receive the Medal of Honor,” he wrote. “Regardless, there is no doubt he was a hero.”

The Times concludes:

This revelation from Gates comes amid a new effort to give Peralta the award. Rep. Duncan Hunter, R-Calif., has unearthed new eyewitness statements and evidence, including Peralta’s shrapnel-battered rifle, and is lobbying aggressively for Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel to re-open the case.

A spokesman for Hunter, Joe Kasper, said the panel Gates convened to consider the evidence regarding Peralta’s award crucially lacked eyewitnesses who could attest to his actions in his final moments. Still, Kasper said, Gates’ admission that the award could be upgraded with the admission of more evidence should signal an opportunity for Hagel to take action.

“Hagel now has the new or previously unseen evidence that Gates talks about in his book. That is now on Hagel’s desk,” Kasper said. “Hagel now has the evidence to make the decision the Secretary Gates could not.”

Officials with Hagel’s office have said he is familiarizing himself with the facts of the case, but it has not been formally reopened.

Read the full report here.

Author: DORIAN DE WIND, Military Affairs Columnist