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A Hero’s Sacrifice: Sgt. Rafael Peralta

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.

Sgt. Rafael Peralta was one of them.

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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  • http://www.facebook.com/kenneth.long3 Kenneth Long

    TO ALL THE MEN AND WOMAN OF THE MARINE CORPS AND OTHER SERVICES. i HAVE STARTED AN ONLINE PETITION TO HAVE SERGEANT PERALTA AWARDED THE MEDAL OF HONOR. GO TO AND SEARCH FOR THIS PETITION UNDER PERALTA. LETS GIVE THIS HERO WHAT HE DESERVES

  • Zakry59

      Anyone who doubts that a Marine could stay in the fight after being seriously wounded has obviously never met one. I suggest you educate yourself Mr. secretary otherwise im not sure you rate the honor of your post. As for Sgt Peralta he has the only honor that really matters, the respect of his fellow Marines.

  • Zakry59

      Anyone who doubts that a Marine could stay in the fight after being seriously wounded has obviously never met one. I suggest you educate yourself Mr. secretary otherwise im not sure you rate the honor of your post. As for Sgt Peralta he has the only honor that really matters, the respect of his fellow Marines.

  • Luis Enrique

    God Bless you Sgt Peralta and Family….

  • Cpl Cedeno

    Cpl Cedeno/USMC

    It is very disappointing and freaking frustrating when doubting on a eyewitness that went thru that crazy encounter. I mean why would Lcpl Kammerer lie about something so devastating. Somebody needs to open Mr. Gates eyes and make him see the sacrifice that we all see here!!!
    Sgt Rafael Peralta, true HERO, should deserve the Medal of Honor and nothing less. My condolences to the family and may you R.I.P. Brother. Semper Fi do or Die!!! Hoooraahh Marines!!!!

  • Trowe15

    What would Chesty do? Haha

  • Linandysuper

    YOU SHALL BE REMEMBERED!

  • Brandon Mitalas

    This is an outrage which is very personal to my. I did not know Sgt. Peralta… But I did. I was deployed in September of 2004, I was sent down to Kuwait to help run a mission at an airport. I had the distinct honor of carrying Sgt. Peralta’s remains, along with many more Marines. Someone was always with the Fallen Angels before being transported home with honors.
    In reading his citation… It is clear to me that he is more than deserving of our military’s highest honor in the Medal of Honor. He will, or had already, have a station named after him in our Crucible at Recruit Training. I personally will be writing the Honorable Mr. Obama tomorrow to lobby for an executive order. This selfless Marine, man and American deserves nothing less. One person and one letter cannot change anything. But the masses can… Join me?

    Cpl Brandon Mitalas CSSB-7 A co. 4th LSB, OIF II-II

  • Rmconnelly93

    He better get the Medal Of Honor

  • JK

    It’s long past time to correct this egregious error. Rest easy, Sergeant. We know the truth and we honor your sacrifice.

  • Anonymous

    Thank God for the Marine Corps and Latino Americans who are proud supporters of this nation.  Rest in peace brave Devil Dog!

  • Cetchieson

    Devildog did what he had to do to save his brothers. Semper Fidelis brother. See you at the gates of heaven one day.

  • Brian

    If I hear one more politician referred to as a ‘hero’, I may physically become ill.  This marine exemplified the essence of the word and any speculation as to the other marines’ break down of what happened is disgusting; How dare any yahoo in Washington question the integrity of a United States Marine.  God bless the USMC!  Semper Fidelis!

  • JAMES SCHEFFER

    SGT RAFAEL PERALTA IS A WARRIOR AND A HERO AND WILL ALWAYS BE ONE

  • Dave Ryan

    I cannot believe eye-witness accounts are disregarded in favor of the opinion of a speculative medical opinion. The medical opinion does not account for the seconds and fractions thereof in which the grenade, gunshot, and action actually occurred. Rather, it reduces what actually happened to a simultaneous event, which is not what the accounts of the fellow marines – eyewitnesses, saved by the gallant Marine – attest to having actually occurred.

    Shame on the bureaucracy and the bureaucrats that have acted to deny the recognition purchased at so dear a sacrifice.

  • Andrew Chiu

    The decision by the Secretary of Defense Gates to question the possibility of whether or not Sgt. Peralta could have, after sustaining mortal wounds, deliberately reached out and pulled the grenade to himself is without merit. The accounts of similar acts by other mortally wounded soldiers and naval personnel in prior conflicts abound and no one sought to question those actions. As a physician who has attended to patients in far more chronically debilitated states than a healthy Marine, I find it entirely plausible that eyewitness accounts of Sgt. Peralta’s actions are accurate. It can only be hoped that Mr. Gates’ decision will be overturned by parties with more common sense. Until then unfortunately, Sgt. Peralta’s family and the Corps will necessarily wait. God bless Sgt. Peralta’s family and the United States Marine Corps.

  • Rod

    Just watched the piece on Sunday morning (CBS) it brought tears to my eyes. I couldn’t believe why he wasn’t awarded the MOH. What a brave young man. The Peralta family should be very proud, what a great honor to our country to have a young man of such caliber amongst our ranks. I salute you Sgt Peralta.

  • Jorge L Ortiz,1SG,USARMY,(RET)

    ALL MY RESPECT TO SGT RAFAEL PERALTA’S FAMILY AND THE PEOPLE THAT ARE SUPPORTING HIS MOH NOMINATION; READING HIS “NC CITATION” IT IS LIKE READING THE MOH CITATION OF PFC FERNANDO LUIS GARCIA LEDESMA (US MARINE, KOREA), I STRONGLY SUPPORT ALL EFFORTS FOR THE MOH AWARD. THANKS GOD “GATES” WAS NOT THE SECRETARY AT THAT TIME ON 195_. READ PFC GARCIA LEDESMA CITATIONON THE MOH PAGE AND YOU SEE THE EXACT PICTURE OF SGT PERALTA’S ACTION.

  • Campfreddie

    Tell THIS to the Marines! Its politics!

    With an award as high as this, The government has to look beyond the actions of the soldier in question and into his/her personal life. Far too many times has the defense department been embarrassed by a recipient of a Valor medal winner only to see the winner later question the policies of the US government in the public arena. In the case of Sgt. Rafael Peralta, we learn that he grew up an illegal alien only just receiving his green card before enlisting and could have been deported anytime before that. I believe that Sec. Gates did not want to risk Sgt. Rafael Peralta’s family from being persuaded into using the medal as a platform on immigration issues by pro immigration forces. There is no question in my mind that this Marine deserves the MOH. This Marine exemplifies what it is to love this country and there are many of him in uniform and out who may have come here illegally but want to do the right thing and be accounted for in a country they love including myself as a British ex pat and I’ll add, ex British soldier! In the case of Sgt. Rafael Peralta, his sacrifice is not enough in the eyes of the government to override this issue and that is a damn shame. Sgt. Rafael Peralta, I will tell my new born son of your sacrifice. You are what it means to be American and I thank you for your service.

  • STEPHEN LARA, SSGT USMC

    The decision made by the Sec Def enrages me and many of my fellow Marines, comrads in arms, and civilians alike. This man ultimately gave his life for his men and his country, with complete disregard for his own personal well being. That’s what kind of Marine this man was in and out of uniform. He took care of his brothers and sisters. Other than the fact that he was a very good friend of mine, it does not surprise me that he would do such a thing. He was fearless. I find it particularly ludicrous that the Sec Def would base his “assumption” that this Sergeant of Marines did anything other than smother that grenade for his men to save their lives, and award him with anything other than the Congressional Medal of Honor. It sickens me, especially when his fellow Marines attest to the facts provided which held no bearing on the final conclusion of what was awarded. This is a damn shame. Rest in peace brother, the fight is not over, for we will stick together till the end. Semper Fidelis.

  • J. T. Coates

    Sgt. Peralta is a hero. He is a hero to his unit, his friends, his family and his country. He will always be remembered and honored as such.

  • J. T. Coates

    Sgt. Peralta is a hero. He is a hero to his unit, his friends, his family, and his country. He will always be remembered and honored as such.

  • Kevin Whiteman MSggt USMC (Ret)

    This is a travesty!!!!!! The Sec Def needs to correct this ASAP. Sgt Peralta is a REAL AMERICAN HERO!

    The CMoH is in order.

  • LTC Herbek US Army (Ret)

    Sacrifice is Sacrifice.

    Certainly if the last conscious action of a Marine fire team leader was for the safety and survival of his fellow Marines, that’s all that counts. He made that decision in the midst of a death battle the Department of the Navy fully understood. No one, years later, in a sterile DoD office will ever understand the violence and sacrifice of that room. Let the Navy’s recommendation for the Medal of Honor stand.

  • Brian

    Perhaps because Sgt Peralta was born in Mexico or was not a naturalized US citizen the decision was more scrutinized on the hill. What a shame.

  • BILL GOODWIN

    ANOTHER CASE OF POLITICAL INTERFERENCE BY GATES – AN AMATEUR AND INCOMPETENT. THE GRENADE DID NOT ROLL UNDER SGT PERALTA ALL BY ITSELF. REST EASY, BROTHER. YOUR WORK HERE IS DONE.

  • tim franklin

    As the father of an active duty Marine who has served 4 tours of duty in Iraq and one in Afghanistan, I find this decision to be unconcionsable. The Navy and The Marine Corps did the right thing. This HERO deserves the Medal of Honor.

  • Robert R Roth

    I am disgusted with the SECDEF’s actions. For someone who proports to be close to and respectful of those HE sends into harms way, to basically turn his back on this TRUE HERO, is just what a POLITITION would do.
    GATES should be ashamed of himself. I would be.

  • Jorge Guerrero

    OohRah Peralta.

  • Jeff Brown

    I do not understand the doubt. Sgt. Peralta certainly had none.
    Why is the right thing to do so hard for some but not for our heroes?

  • maria beatrice corato

    I want more, my Friends. I want more for Heroe Peralta & for all my Marines. I want look in TV more programs titled “LIFE WITH MARINES”, as some old reportages of Ross Kemp and again. Because, if I think to the medals, I seem a medal as a “tomb of memory”, sorry my beloved USA. I understand the pride of Peralta’s Family, but I afraid the medals as the “smemoranda” of the Heroism & the Pride of my MARINES & of all U.S. SOLDIERS. America teached me the importance of the SHARING of Her Greatness by Television, day by day inall my life. I never forget it, I want never forget the USS SHARING of KNOWLEDGE & HEROISM! I think internet as a new wonderful tool of Knowledge of Greatness & Braveness & Heroism of my Soldiers. But the world have not an “online-tool”. The world yet looks at Television where the Soldiers are… forgotten. This is my Italian Experience. I need to see THE MARINE’s LIFE ON TELEVISION from here to eternity. For remember all us The Few & The Proud. Simply… THE MARINES, my beloved Marines, our Eternal Human Fathers:)