Medal of Honor Nominee, Sgt. Rafael Peralta—The Citation Says It All

Sgt Peralta

HOUSE OF REPRESENTATIVES
TWENTY-FIFTH LEGISLATURE, 2009
STATE OF HAWAII H.C.R. NO. 19 H.D.1
HOUSE CONCURRENT RESOLUTION
STRONGLY URGING THE SECRETARY OF DEFENSE AND THE PRESIDENT OF THE
UNITED STATES TO AWARD SGT. RAFAEL PERALTA THE MEDAL OF HONOR.

15 WHEREAS, his battalion redeployed to Iraq’s Anbar Province
16 in 2004 as part of Operation Phantom Fury to battle insurgents
17 in their stronghold of Fallujah; and
18
19 WHEREAS, on November 15, 2004, while assisting one of his
20 rifle platoon’s squads to clear a house of terrorists and
21 insurgents [in Fallujah, Iraq], Sgt. Peralta was mortally wounded when he smothered
22 an enemy grenade with his body to protect the soldiers in his
23 platoon, and is credited for saving the lives of six of his
24 fellow Marines;

BE IT RESOLVED that the House of Representatives of the
28 Twenty-fifth Legislature of the State of Hawaii, Regular Session
29 2009, the Senate concurring, that the Legislature strongly urges
30 the Secretary of Defense and the President of the United States
31 to reconsider their decisions and award Sgt. Rafael Peralta the
32 Medal of Honor for his bravery in sacrificing his life for his
33 fellow soldiers;

The Hawaii House Concurrent Resolution goes on to describe how the Marine Corps Commandant recommended Sgt. Rafael Peralta for the Medal of Honor and how a Board convened by Defense Secretary Robert Gates, on September 18, 2008, concluded that Sgt. Peralta’s actions did not warrant the Medal of Honor, citing that the evidence did not meet the exacting “no doubt” standard necessary to support the awarding of the nation’s highest military award.

Before and since the Hawaii House Resolution, several Senators and Representatives, including virtually the entire California Congressional Delegation, have urged the Secretary of Defense and both President Bush and President Obama to award the Medal of Honor to this Marine hero.

Some have called this effort “politicizing” the military awards and decorations process, and “meddling” in what should be strictly a military responsibility.

Perhaps. But those who have thoroughly and objectively reviewed the case of Sgt. Peralta—including military members, including U.S. Marines—believe that a gross injustice has occurred and that Peralta is being denied his rightful honor.

There has been a huge outcry at this injustice by Sgt. Peralta’s family, by fellow Marines and by the American people—through petitions, through personal letters, through hundreds of articles, through the press and through their elected representatives.

Some have seen this as trying to “insert public opinion” into the process. Perhaps. But when an injustice is suspected to have occurred, the American people—the “public”—have, I believe, every right to express their opinion and seek redress—no matter what, who or why.

Something is very amiss in the case of Sgt. Peralta.

The central argument surrounding the decision not to award the Medal of Honor to Sgt. Peralta is as to whether the already critically wounded Peralta could have intentionally reached for a fragmentation grenade that had been thrown by an insurgent, scooped it under his body, thereby absorbing the explosion with his own body and saving the lives of six of his fellow Marines.

A panel convened by Secretary Robert Gates last year (a panel that included a neurosurgeon and two pathologists) concluded 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, and Gates rejected the Medal of Honor recommendation. “That decision outraged the Marines who were there and gave official statements saying they saw him reach for the grenade and that they believed he saved the lives of at least four men in doing so.”

Witnesses said Peralta fell to the ground face-first after being shot in the crossfire. A fleeing insurgent threw a hand grenade into the room, which bounced off a couch and landed near Peralta’s head.

“Sgt. Peralta grabbed the grenade and pulled it underneath him while we took cover,” said an unidentified Marine whose name is redacted as part of the investigative file the military released publicly.

Already during the Medal of Honor nomination process, the question arose as to whether the head wound received by Sgt, Peralta could have been so immediately incapacitating to prevent him from executing “any meaningful motions.” After further investigation, 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.”

According to the Stars and Stripes, Marine journalist Lance Cpl. T. J. Kaemmerer wrote a first-person account of the fight during which he accompanied the other Marines on a house-clearing mission in Fallujah:

I saw four Marines firing from the adjoining room when a yellow, foreign-made, oval-shaped grenade bounced into the room, rolling to a stop close to Peralta’s nearly lifeless body.

… Peralta — in his last fleeting moments of consciousness — reached out and pulled the grenade into his body.

Robert Reynolds, a Marine lance corporal at the time, was about three to five feet behind Peralta when the grenade exploded. He has no doubt that Peralta purposefully attempted to place the grenade underneath himself to save others: “It wasn’t just something he barely did. He physically reached out and pulled it into his body,” said Reynolds, 31, and now a corrections officer and father of two daughters in Ritzville, Wash., according to the Stars and Stripes

According to the Honolulu Advertiser, “At least four Marines with Peralta on Nov. 15, 2004, in Fallujah, Iraq, have stated in written reports that they saw the short and stocky Marine nicknamed ‘”Rafa’ pull a grenade to his body after it had bounced into a room, saving the lives of others in the process.”

In a letter to President Barack Obama, U.S. Rep. Duncan D. Hunter, R. Ca., son of Duncan L. Hunter, and a former Marine officer who served two tours in Iraq and one in Afghanistan, says in part:

I am very concerned that the criteria for awarding the Medal of Honor, which has been historically based on eyewitness accounts, has now been replaced by modern forensic science…I firmly believe that eyewitness accounts of the event should take precedent through the entire chain of command review process because heroic actions in combat cannot always be explained by science alone.

Hunter has also said: “The decision contradicts the eyewitness accounts of those Marines that were fighting alongside Sergeant Peralta and witnessed his heroic actions…These accounts should take precedence.”

President Bush singled out Sgt. Peralta for throwing his body on a grenade to save his comrades in Iraq.
And how about Sgt. Peralta’s mother, Rosa, and his family?

In the bottom of their hearts, Rosa and other family members feel it is right…The family believes the Marines that were with Sergeant Peralta. The government trusted those Marines to fight for this country in Fallujah, and it should believe them now.

But, strangely enough—almost incredibly—the most powerful support and justification for awarding the medal of Honor to Peralta and the most powerful rebuttal to and contradiction of the Gates Panel contention that the wounded Peralta could not have made a “deliberate decision” to reach for the grenade, comes from the citation accompanying the award of the Navy Cross to Sgt. Peralta. (Peralta was presented the Navy Cross instead of the Medal of Honor).

The citation reads, in part:

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.

No, I don’t believe that the American people are trying to politicize this hallowed process. Neither do I think that public opinion should enter into that process. However, I strongly believe that the public has the right, the obligation, to express an opinion when it believes that something is not right, is not just. After all, decision makers, members of panels—no matter how prestigious or exclusive—and even the Secretary of Defense and the President of the United States are human beings, and human being sometimes do make mistakes.

An article in the Honolulu Advertiser this past weekend has the encouraging headline “Marine could still get medal.”

We’ll see

For more posts on this and related subjects please see:

http://themoderatevoice.com/46745/the-medal-of-honor-too-few-and-too-late/

http://themoderatevoice.com/41679/the-medal-of-honor-a-medal-too-far/

http://themoderatevoice.com/30745/stolen-valor-at-the-highest-levels-the-case-of-sgt-rafael-peralta/

http://themoderatevoice.com/27404/mr-president-the-medal-of-honor-why-a-measly-five/

Author: DORIAN DE WIND, Military Affairs Columnist

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11 Comments

  1. It sounds like the military doesn't believe the eye witness accounts of what happened. Is it often that fellow soldiers lie about another soldiers actions in order to win them a medal?

    I don't know. It seems to me that the military is cutting hairs here and I am not sure why.

    Whether they guy knew he was going to die or not. If the eye witnesses say he gathered the thing up and smoothered it…I'd believe them.

  2. “Who win, and nations do not see,
    Who fall, and none observe,
    Whose dying eyes no country
    Regards with patriot love.” Emily Dickinson

  3. Honestly to me it seems that he didn't meet the criteria, medical examiners did not apparently think he was able to consciously perform the act. Whether he did or not, the official standard was not met and I can see their point of view. I can also understand that although normally eyewitnesses in a heated moment might not see things clearly especially when they are his buddies, despite eyewitnesses being generally the best source. That being said, I'm not convinced there is much harm in granting the reward even if there is doubt since you do have eyewitness testimony. Its a tough call either way.

  4. It is a vexating case, shannonlee, and the fact that the Gates' panel won't release its findings doesn't help to eliminate rumors ranging all the way from whether Peralta’s onetime status as an illegal immigrant played a part in the decision (Air Force Times) to rumors that Peralta was mortally wounded by friendly fire—a factor that in no way should detract from his ultimate heroism of scooping the live grenade under his body to protect his fellow marines.

    Perhaps one day we'll find out.

  5. Leonidas:

    What I, and so many others can not reconcile, is the discrepancy–the contradiction–between the Panel's “findings” and the words in the citation (Signed by the President of the United States) accompanying the Navy Cross:

    “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”

  6. Leonidas:

    What I, and so many others can not reconcile, is the discrepancy–the contradiction–between the Panel's “findings” and the words in the citation (Signed by the President of the United States) accompanying the Navy Cross:

    “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”

    Understandable, if those words were true the Medal of Honor would be deserved, they might just be a sort of compromise though, don't give the medal of honor but give the next best and words that are what the family would like to hear. Not saying that is right, just saying that might have been the thought process.

  7. I don't know where you are going, Leonidas, but just a couple (three) of points:

    1. I don't think I said that the Air Force Times is a military publication.

    2. “Understandable, if those words were true the Medal of Honor would be deserved,” ??? Those words are in the official citation….

    3. “Another complicating factor might be the possibility that Peralta was hit by friendly fire”. I believe I mentioned that, along with saying in a comment “a factor that in no way should detract from his ultimate heroism of scooping the live grenade under his body to protect his fellow marines.” That he was hit by friendly fire before protecting his buddies with his own body and life, should have no impact either on the Medal of Honor or on the Navy Cross

    What is/are your point(s), Leonidas?

    Thank you

  8. Apparently there is doubt. That doubt apparently is based in forensic science. So much of the forensic evidence relies on how much of his cognitive brain was left after the bullet wound to the head. If so much of the man’s brain was destroyed that a doctor’s medical opinion was that he was totally incapacitated and unable to perform such an act, verses, the statements of those whom obviously had high regard for him, and may desire for him the very best, is that not the very definition of doubt? However why not get a second forensic medical opinion or was that vehicle of objectivity already provided for during the investigation?

    Funerals are for the living not the dead and so are posthumous awards. Does the man deserve to go down in history as a hero? Yes and he already is a hero by volunteering to fight in combat, fighting in combat, leading in combat, and, fighting to the death in combat. Thus he goes down in history with the Navy Cross.

    Doubt is apparent because of the presented scientific evidence. For the CMH to be awarded, it seems that doubt is not allowed according to process. The preservation of the process and thus the sacred honor of the Congressional Medal of Honor must be protected. (Though the medal was said to have been given out liberally during the civil war when it was initiated as an award for valor)

    If this is indeed all the information available, and, I am inclined to believe that it is not, then he did in fact retrieve and harbor the grenade under his body, either cognitively or as an involuntary muscle reaction. Having seen a man’s involuntary muscle reactions after dieing of a head wound, I could easily believe that the “action” could have been involuntary, but I would ask this: At what point does it matter if the “action” was voluntary or involuntary? Especially for those whom believe in divine intervention?

    IMO, the standards for awarding the CMH must be preserved as uncorrupted above all else. Even if it means that somebody did not get the award when they should have. I must reiterate though, that the Navy Cross is NOT chopped liver! It just does not carry the same PUBLIC mystique as the CMH.

  9. Thank you for your comments Father Time. I do appreciate them and your opinions, especially about the fact that the Navy Cross is an extremely high award for valor (second only to the MOH), and the fact that the MOH standards must be preserved.

    Of course, expert and eye witness opinions on whether Peralta's actions were voluntary or involuntary vary, and that's what is really at the “crux of the matter.”

    I am still very puzzled, intrigued, however at the unmistakably clarity and intent of the follwoing words in the citation:

    “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.”

    That's what makes me think that there is something else that we don't know, or that the Pentagon doesn't want us to know…

    “However why not get a second forensic medical opinion”

    That's exactly what the family is planning to do “a prominent gunshot wound forensic expert has agreed to review the Peralta case evidence.”

    Dorian

  10. Sorry. In my previous comment, “unmistakably” should have been umistakably “unmistakable.”

    Dorian

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