Secretary of Defense Chuck Hagel announced last week that he will not reconsider fallen Marine Sgt. Rafael Peralta for the Medal of Honor award.
Peralta, who died in Iraq in 2004, was awarded the Navy Cross following his death. But those who fought with him on the day he died say he deserves the military’s highest honor.
Peralta led a group of Marines into a house holding insurgents in Fallujah, Iraq in 2004. Peralta was injured after entering the house. After being injured, Peralta saw a grenade on the floor. If allowed to detonate freely, the grenade surely would have injured or killed several Marines. In a selfless heroic act, Peralta jumped on top of the grenade and concealed the blast. The explosion killed him.
An initial medical report on Peralta’s body said he was already dead prior to the grenade’s explosion. A panel reviewing Peralta’s death said he died from a head injury moments before and that any effort to conceal the grenade blast was involuntary. They decided the Navy Cross – the military’s second highest award – was fitting.
Both Peralta’s family and the Marines who witnessed his death say he is deserving of the Medal of Honor. New photographs of Peralta’s body that surfaced confirmed that he did, in fact, conceal the blast of the grenade. Secretary of Defense Hagel agreed to re-examine the death. After looking into Peralta’s death, Hagel agreed with his predecessors in saying the death doesn’t meet the “proof beyond a reasonable doubt” standard the Medal of Honor demands.
The Marines who witnessed Peralta’s death remain unwavering in their belief that Peralta deserves the nation’s highest honor. That, according to Army veteran and Military Times Hall of Valor curator Douglas Sterner, should be enough.
“The Medal of Honor is recommended by the comrades in arms that witness the action,” Sterner said. “It has to go through a vetting process, but the individuals who witness the action should be the basis on which that medal is awarded. I have never heard ‘beyond a reasonable doubt’ used in the same sentence as Medal of Honor before. It’s a legal term, not a military term.”
Robert Reynolds, a Marine present at Peralta’s death, credits the fallen Marine with saving his life.
Reynolds said Peralta’s bravery was the type of thing “you only hear about in boot camp" and added that "he gave me a chance to a second life.”