The then-insurgent stronghold of Fallujah, Iraq, faced a Marine Corps led assault in November 2004. When the dust settled, a new generation of heroes rose from the ashes, setting the precedence for the next generation of Marines. Unfortunately, like every operation of its nature, it cost lives.
While clearing houses Nov. 15, Peralta and his fire team entered a house where the enemy silently awaited. They cleared the courtyard and the first room before Peralta led them into the second one. He opened the door and was barraged with enemy fire, knocking him to the ground. During the firefight that ensued, the insurgents tossed a grenade at the rest of the fire team. The accounts from the Marines present state Peralta pulled the grenade into his body, absorbing the blast and thus saving their lives.
For his actions in those final moments of his life, the Mexico City native was recommended for the Medal of Honor by the Marine Corps and Department of the Navy.
However, it was announced in September 2008 that Peralta would posthumously receive a Navy Cross vice a Medal of Honor. A board convened by Defense Secretary Robert Gates questioned whether Peralta could knowingly pull the grenade under him after being mortally wounded.
Hundreds of Marines, including those who served with him, were outraged upon hearing the decision. Whether he did it in his final moments of consciousness or not, he shielded his Marines from potentially fatal wounds. And they testified to that.
Lance Cpl. T. J. Kaemmerer, a combat correspondent present that fateful morning, reflected on the tragic day and wrote his first-hand account of Peralta’s sacrifice in a commentary shortly after the incident.
“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,” he said. “In an act living up to the heroes of the Marine Corps’ past, Peralta – in his last fleeting moments of consciousness – reached out and pulled the grenade into his body.
“I watched in fear and horror as the other four Marines scrambled to the corners of the room and the majority of the blast was absorbed by Peralta’s now lifeless body. His selflessness left four other Marines with only minor injuries from smaller fragments of the grenade.”
Congressman Bill Filner, who represents California’s 51st Congressional District, is an active supporter of Peralta’s nomination for the Medal of Honor. In his May 2009 Congressional Update, he stated that the Secretary of Defense took an “unprecedented and unusual step by over-turning the Department of the Navy’s recommendation” and raised many questions on the decision:
“Why did the Secretary of Defense deviate from the long established rules and processes and overturn the Department of the Navy recommendation? Is the Department of Defense going to use this “new” process to consider all future Medal of Honor nominations? What is the specific criteria that will be used by the Secretary of Defense to determine who should and who should not receive the Medal of Honor?”
While our country wages a new front in an ongoing battle with the Taliban, we cannot forget our modern-day heroes, like Peralta and many others.
While the Medal of Honor will never bring her son back, I believe Rosa Peralta and her children deserve for Rafael to be remembered by our nation as the hero his Marines consider him.
There have been seven Medal of Honor recipients since the onset of the Global War on Terrorism nine years ago. There were 246 recipients from our 10 year involvement in Vietnam.
The decision to upgrade Peralta’s Navy Cross to the nation’s highest award has to come from the White House.
For more information on these heroes visit the Congressional Medal of Honor Society.
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