"You should be proud of being an American..."
Barack Obama's Secretary of Defense hasn't exactly had a very good past few day. Most recently proposing the Armed Forces be cut back to pre-WWII troops strengths, as well as earlier drawing the anger of many active duty and former Marines for shooting down any further discussion of awarding the Medal of Honor to a Marine killed in Iraq who many of his comrades claim he saved their lives, as reported by Fox News on Feb. 24, 2014, both the Jacksonville (NC) Daily News and The Daily Mail (London, UK) on Feb. 23, 2014, and The Washington Post on Feb. 21, 2014.
Secretary of Defense Chuck Hagel announced that he's chosen not to re-open the case of upgrading Sgt. Rafael Peralta's Navy Cross (second highest award for personal valor in combat) to the Medal of Honor after "the totality of the evidence does not meet the 'proof beyond a reasonable doubt' Medal of Honor award standard."
Questions have lingered if Sgt. Peralta actually pulled a live grenade to his own body in a dying act to save fellow Marines, which would be criteria enough to warrant the Medal of Honor.
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.
Regardless of the findings of the Marine Corps from those who survived the attack with only minor wounds, a medical team of inquiry has ruled that he was already dead from a gunshot to the head, and that his act of reaching for the grenade and smothering it with his own body was an "involuntary action."
Despite the board of inquiry's years later decision, Navy Combat Corpsmen didn't declare Sgt. Peralta dead until he was already en route to the Battalion Aid Station.
The act itself...
Sgt. Rafael Peralta, USMC, was killed in action during the bloody room-to-room fighting in the Marines hard-won Battle of Fallujah during November of 2004.
Marines on-scene verified that Sgt. Peralta volunteered to go on one of the more deadly missions of any era of warfare -- room clearing -- which many hardened warriors have likened to "a knife fight in a phone booth."
According to eyewitnesses, Peralta and four other Marines were clearing one particular room when a burst of insurgent rifle fire caught the Sergeant directly in the face and body.
As witnessed by Marine Combat Correspondent Corporal T. J. Kaemmerer via the official Marine Corps website:
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. 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.
Yet a handful of other Marines are now stepping forward to contradict what eyewitnesses and the Corps state to be factual.
Former Marine Reggie Brown, who was with Sgt. Peralta the day he was killed, claims that "members of the squad scrambled away from the blast, one of them said that claiming that Peralta had jumped on the grenade would be a good way to honor his legacy."
I can remember people saying it would be the right thing to do, to say that he did more than he did.
I disagree with everything my fellow Marines proclaim to have seen.
Yet another former Marine Nicholas Jones, who was the squad leader on the mission that resulted in Sgt. Peralta's death, called Brown’s account "ridiculous," stating there was "no effort to come up with a conspiracy theory."
Former Marine Robert Reynolds also was an eyewitness to the events, stated Sgt. Peralta exhibited the type of heroism "you only hear about in boot camp. To live it out was unreal."
The former Teufelhunden went on to credit Sgt. Peralta for saving his life that morning, stating "he gave me a chance to a second life."
He said the notion that Marines had agreed to make up the story "was impossible, noting that he and others were medically evacuated soon after the blast."
Furthermore, Garry Morrison, the father of Lance Corporal Adam Morrison, said with a trembling voice in a telephone interview:
He saved the life of my son and every Marine in that room.
I just know one thing: God has a special place in heaven for Sgt. Peralta.
Band of brothers ...
The most recent request for the Secretary of Defense to reopen the case for Sgt. Peralta comes from California Republican Congressman Duncan D. Hunter, Major, USMC Reserve.
Rep. Hunter, who quit his job the day after 9/11 to join the Marines and himself a veteran of the Battle of Fallujah, said in an interview earlier this month that awarding the Medal of Honor is "the right thing to do."
When you have young Marines saying, 'I’m not dead, because he jumped on the grenade,' that’s all we need to know.
There’s no reason to complicate this.
For young Rafael Peralta who came to America initially as an immigrant from Mexico, the day he was granted a Green Card was the same day he joined the Marines.
While most teen-agers have posters of scantily clad models or sports heroes on their bedroom walls, Rafael only had three items:
- The Constitution of the United States
- The Bill of Rights
- A photograph of his graduation from Marine Corps Boot Camp
In a letter that the Peralta family received days after Marines already visited to notify them of his death, Sgt. Peralta penned to his 14-year-old brother:
We are going to destroy insurgents. Watch the news.... Be proud of me, bro. I'm going to do something I always wanted to do.
You should be proud of being an American. Our father came to this country and became a citizen because it was the right place for our family to be.
If anything happens to me, just remember I've already lived my life to the fullest.
That 14-year-old boy is now Lance Cpl. Ricardo Peralta, USMC.
A veteran of combat in Afghanistan, L/Cpl Peralta is an infantryman like his brother, and is currently assigned to 3rd Battalion, 7th Marine Regiment stationed at the California high desert combat training center of 29 Palms.
L/Cpl Peralta was present along with other family members at the recent commissioning of the US Navy's latest Arleigh Burke-class guided missile destroyer, the USS Rafael Peralta (DDG-115).