View Full Version : Medal of Honor denial stirs strong reaction in many

09-22-08, 09:50 AM
September 22, 2008
Medal of Honor denial stirs strong reaction in many

By William Cole

"Dear Mr. President," the letter starts. "We are writing to express our extreme disappointment with the decision to posthumously award Marine Corps Sgt. Rafael Peralta with the Navy Cross instead of the Medal of Honor."

The letter Friday was signed by U.S. Sens. Barbara Boxer and Dianne Feinstein, U.S. Rep. Duncan Hunter, and several other members of the California delegation.

The four years the Pentagon took to make a decision on the Hawai'i-based Marine's Medal of Honor recommendation — ultimately downgrading it to a Navy Cross on Wednesday — has provoked a strong reaction.

The California congressional delegation is asking President Bush for a review of Defense Secretary Robert Gates' decision not to award the nation's top military honor to Peralta, who was with the 1st Battalion, 3rd Marine Regiment, at Kane'ohe Bay.

Peralta's mother, Rosa, who lives in San Diego, said she planned to appeal the decision to Congress.

Gates' decision was based on the contention that Peralta, 25, might not have been fully in control of his faculties when he pulled into his body an Iraqi grenade that was tossed into a room of seven Hawai'i Marines on Nov. 15, 2004.

Peralta had been shot by insurgents during house-to-house fighting in the "Battle of Fallujah."

A military report said Peralta also was hit in the back of the head by a ricochet from another Marine's rifle.

A Gates-appointed panel unanimously concluded that the report on Peralta's action did not meet the standard of "no margin of doubt or possibility of error," USA Today reported.

"It is our understanding that the review panel could not confirm whether Sgt. Peralta's actions were deliberate, despite the fact that several eyewitness accounts verify that he knowingly picked up the grenade and absorbed the full explosion with his body," the congressional letter states.

The group also noted that Peralta's Navy Cross citation states he used his body to shield fellow Marines from the blast "without hesitation and with complete disregard for his own safety."

"Clearly, Sgt. Peralta, as confirmed by the award citation, made a deliberate decision to absorb the grenade blast in order to protect the lives of the Marines fighting directly by his side."

Robert Reynolds was one of those Marines.

The Washington state corrections officer, who left the Corps in April 2005, figures Peralta saved the lives of five Marines that day, including himself.

"I was in that house. I was next to Sgt. Peralta," Reynolds, 31, told The Advertiser. "I saw him with my own eyes reach out and pull that damn grenade in.

"I am deeply hurt," Reynolds said of the Medal of Honor decision. "I feel betrayed by our administration. I feel we have been failed."

The length of the process itself has eaten away at the Hawai'i Marines who served with Peralta, and the family he left behind, including his mother, two sisters ages 28 and 16, and an 18-year-old brother.

It typically has taken up to 2 1/2 years to review and award Medals of Honor for Iraq and Afghanistan. Only five have been awarded for the two wars.

Peralta, who came to the United States without documentation from Tijuana, Mexico, enlisted in the Marines the day he got his green card. He had proudly posted the U.S. Constitution in his home in San Diego.

Icela Donald, Peralta's sister, said he felt "privileged to be here. And if he had a chance, he wanted to defend his country. It was pretty much his life, being in the Marines."

The congressional letter notes that President Bush posthumously awarded the Medal of Honor last year to Cpl. Jason Dunham for the same act of heroism in western Anbar province, Iraq.

"Intentionally absorbing a grenade blast to protect one's comrades in arms has been traditionally recognized by awarding the Medal of Honor," the letter states. "The sacrifice of Sgt. Peralta manifests the same devotion to one's comrades and country as that displayed by Jason Dunham.

"We therefore request that a review of Sgt. Peralta's case be undertaken and that, unless a strong distinction is drawn between his actions and those of Cpl. Dunham, Sgt. Peralta be awarded the Medal of Honor."

On Memorial Day 2005, President Bush singled out Peralta for his valor, saying he "understood that America faces dangerous enemies, and he knew the sacrifices required to defeat them."