“There's going to be a generation of men and women serving on [the USS Rafael Peralta], and each one of them will know about the namesake." -- Robert Reynolds

UPDATE:

To watch the commissioning ceremony of the USS Rafael Peralta, today, Saturday, July 29, at 1 p.m. EDT, please click here.

Original Post:

On October 29, 2015, the U.S. Department of Defense formally announced the naming of the Navy’s newest guided missile destroyer, the USS Rafael Peralta, honoring Marine Corps Sergeant Rafael Peralta.

On October 31, 2105, the destroyer was christened by Peralta’s mother, Rosa Peralta, at Bath Iron Works, Bath, Maine.

Tomorrow, Saturday, July 29, the USS Rafael Peralta, will be commissioned during a ceremony at Naval Air Station North Island, San Diego.

The U.S. Navy announcement is short and simple:

The future USS Rafael Peralta honors Marine Corps Sgt. Rafael Peralta, who was posthumously awarded the Navy Cross for actions during combat operations in Operation Iraqi Freedom. Peralta is credited with saving the lives of fellow Marines during the second battle of Fallujah in 2004.

The road to this honor, however, has been anything but short and simple.

Marine Sergeant Rafael Peralta

If the name of the honoree, a hero originally nominated for our nation’s highest award for valor -– the Medal of Honor — sounds familiar, it is because many stories have been written, including at least half-a-dozen by this author, about this Marine’s heroism.

Here is a summary, most of it adapted from a Nov 2, 2015, article.

My first story about this Marine appeared in May 2009 under the title “Stolen Valor at the Highest Levels: The Case of Sgt. Rafael Peralta“

As best as I can remember, one of the last stories I wrote about this young Marine appeared in the Huffington Post in March 2012 and was titled, “Is Justice About to Be Done in the Case of Marine Sgt. Rafael Peralta?“

Regrettably, it didn’t quite work out that way.

At a youthful age, Rafael Peralta came to the United States from Mexico and, as soon as he had his “green card,” he joined the U.S. Marine Corps.

While serving in the Marine Corps, Peralta earned his U.S. citizenship.

After joining the Corps, Peralta deployed to Iraq.

On November 14, 2004, Sgt. Peralta, a scout team leader with Company A, 1st Battalion, 3rd Marine Regiment was participating in Operation AL FAJR, the bloody U.S. military house-to-house battle to retake Fallujah where, at the early age of 25, Peralta unselfishly and heroically gave his life for his newly adopted country.

The citation accompanying the award of the Navy Cross, the service’s second highest award for heroism, to Sgt. Peralta tells the story:

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.

However, Sgt. Peralta had originally been nominated for the Medal of Honor, our nation’s highest award for valor — as he richly deserved.

The nomination was approved by the Commandant of the Marine Corps and by the Secretary of the Navy.

In December 2004, U.S. Congressman Bob Filner of California also introduced legislation to award Sgt. Peralta the Medal of Honor.

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

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 U.S. Marine Corps Lt. Gen. Richard 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, 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.

However, in the Marine Corps investigation of the attack, Lt. Gen. Natonski said, “I believe beyond a shadow of a doubt that the gravely wounded Peralta covered the grenade.”

Since then, numerous elected officials, military authorities, media personalities, organizations and individuals have investigated and reviewed every aspect surrounding Peralta’s sacrifice and surrounding the medal’s nomination, review and approval processes and have appealed to, petitioned and implored secretaries of defense and even President Obama to award Sgt. Rafael Peralta the Medal of Honor.

To no avail.

In March, 2012, there was a glimmer of hope.

Julie Watson at the Associated Press reported then:

Federal lawmakers announced Thursday they have obtained information previously unavailable to military investigators that proves the Navy should not have disqualified a San Diego Marine from being posthumously awarded America’s highest military honor.

U.S. Rep. Duncan Hunter [Ca.] said his office 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.

According to the A.P., Congressman Hunter had “obtained a video of the battle action and a newly released report by a forensic pathologist that proves Peralta was conscious and intentionally pulled the grenade under his body … information [that] was previously unavailable to military investigators and reaffirms ‘just how wrong Secretary Gates and his panel were in reaching their decision.’”

On June 8, 2012, nearly 11 years after his heroic death, and after declining for many years to accept the second-highest award for valor, Sgt. Peralta’s family finally accepted the Navy Cross on his behalf.

According to the Washington Post, “Peralta’s mother, Rosa, still believes the sergeant deserves the nation’s highest award for heroism in combat, but is tired after years of appeals.”

At the time of the ship’s christening, the San Diego Union-Tribune wrote:

The family finally accepted the second-highest medal in June, with a nod toward the ship’s construction. Rosa Peralta said at the time that the ship “contains his spirit” and she wanted the medal to have a home on the destroyer.

Tomorrow is Rafael Peralta’s and his family’s day.

Why bring up the story?

Robert Reynolds, “who was six inches from Peralta during the blast,” says, “There’s going to be a generation of men and women serving on [the USS Rafael Peralta], and each one of them will know about the namesake.”

So should we.

Here is a video of the role of destroyers in the U.S. Navy

Lead photo: USS Rafael Peralta (US Navy)

Note: For links to sources for previous articles, please click here.

Dorian de Wind, Military Affairs Columnist
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