SAN DIEGO, CALIFORNIA — After years of fighting for a Medal of Honor nomination, the family of a heroic Marine sergeant has given up and instead accepted a Navy Cross on his behalf.
Sgt. Rafael Peralta died in Iraq after absorbing the blow of a grenade that would likely have killed members of his team. He was just 25.
Former Secretary of Defense Chuck Hagel rejected the Medal of Honor bid because the details of Peralta’s death are still under dispute.
On the morning of November 15th 2004, Peralta’s team was clearing houses in Fallujah.
Inside the fourth house, the team threw open a door to find several insurgents armed with AK-47s.
The Marines exchanged fire with the men and killed one of the insurgents. During the fire exchange, a bullet struck Rafael, severely injuring him. Reports indicate Peralta was struck by a bullet from his own team as he tried to move out of the line of fire.
As the remaining insurgents retreated, a grenade landed next to Peralta. Initial reports indicated he pulled the grenade under his body in an effort to shield his men from the explosion.
But later reports contradicted that story.
“I can remember people saying it would be the right thing to do, to say that he did more than he did,” said Reggie Brown, who was inside the house with Peralta, during a 2014 interview with the Washington Post.
“I disagree with everything my fellow Marines proclaim to have seen,” Brown said.
Other Marines have disputed Brown’s statement.
Regardless, Peralta’s body did absorb the blow of the grenade, which normally has a 5-meter killing radius.
On Monday morning, Peralta’s mother accepted the Navy Cross, which is the second highest award a Marine can receive. Peralta’s brother spoke at the ceremony and read the last letter he received from the fallen hero. In it, Peralta told his little brother to “just remember that I already lived my life to the fullest.”
Peralta was a Mexican immigrant, who reportedly enlisted in the military the same day he received his green card.
“His legacy will carry on as long as the Marine Corps stays alive,” Rick Peralta said during the ceremony.
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