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thedrifter
01-18-09, 08:08 AM
January 18, 2009
City Council may pass resolution on Peralta medal

By William Cole

The Honolulu City Council doesn't normally involve itself with U.S. Department of Defense matters.

For a Hawai'i Marine, it might make an exception.

A resolution proposed by Councilman Charles K. Djou last week and passed out of committee, urges the president, secretary of defense and secretary of the Navy to reconsider a past decision not to award the Medal of Honor to Sgt. Rafael Peralta.

The 25-year-old Peralta, who was with the 1st Battalion, 3rd Marine Regiment out of Kane'ohe Bay, died during intense house-to-house fighting in Fallujah, Iraq, on Nov. 14, 2004.

At least four Marines with Peralta at the time stated in written reports that they saw the short and stocky Mexican-American nicknamed "Rafa" pull a grenade to his body after it had bounced into a room.

A friendly-fire gunshot and the grenade blast combined to kill Peralta.

The Medal of Honor recommendation passed examination by the Marine Corps, U.S. Central Command and Department of the Navy before being rejected by five individuals appointed by Defense Secretary Robert Gates.

The decision was made to instead award Peralta the Navy Cross — the service's second- highest award for valor.

"I don't think city government — or any municipal government, really — should be getting involved in national security affairs," Djou said. "I'm only getting involved in this particular case because Sgt. Peralta was a Kane'ohe-based Marine."

As such, Peralta was a member of the community.

Djou, who is a captain in the Army Reserve, said that "having heard from family and having spoken to several of the Marines who served with (Peralta) I think there's a lot of merit for him to be awarded the Medal of Honor."

Djou said he's optimistic about the resolution's passage before the full council on Jan. 28.

Rosa Peralta, the Marine's mother, sent an e-mail to the City Council from San Diego saying: "Many people ask me why my son was denied the Medal of Honor, but we ourselves don't have an answer to that question. He was a son, a brother, and a friend to the fullest and there is nothing that will replace our loving son. However, it will give me peace if the president returns my son Rafael Peralta's honor back. He was a man that died with honor for the honor of this country that he adopted."

Rafael Peralta had become an American citizen while in uniform.

Members of Congress in California and Hawai'i have asked similar questions about the medal downgrade. The family hopes Barack Obama will intercede once he's president.

In a November letter to U.S. Sen. Daniel Akaka, D-Hawai'i, Gates explained his decision. "The department went to significant lengths to ensure the (Medal of Honor) recommendation for Sgt. Peralta received thorough and complete consideration, just as we do every recommendation," Gates said.

But Gates added that, unfortunately, an internal review could not reconcile "contradictory evidence." As a result, Gates said, he took the unusual step of soliciting the counsel of five independent experts.

Questions were raised as to whether Peralta, hit in the head by a gunshot, had the mental capacity to reach out for the grenade.

AAV pulled out of ocean off Bellows

A Navy dive team and Marines on the beach on Thursday were able to float to the surface and pull out of the surf a 28-ton Marine Assault Amphibious Vehicle, or AAV, that sank Monday night off Bellows Beach.

All crew members were evacuated safely at the time of the sinking by another AAV participating in the training exercise.

Seven Navy divers with Mobile Diving and Salvage Unit 1 converged on the sunken tank-like troop carrier.

Float bags were inflated inside and out to raise the vehicle, which the Navy said was upright on a sandy bottom about 300 yards from shore in about 20 feet of water.

Two more AAVs towed it in.

Carroll Cox, president of EnviroWatch Inc., an environmental watchdog group, said he spent two days monitoring the recovery. Cox said there were about 160 gallons of diesel and 60 gallons of coolant in the AAV, raising concerns about contamination.

On Thursday, Marine Corps spokesman Sgt. Macario Mora said, "It's still being investigated. It will be something that comes out in the final report. But from what we're hearing, (leakage) was extremely minimal or not at all."

Cox said he was told waves caught the vehicle from behind and rammed it down onto the reef, causing a hose to break and letting seawater in.

Ellie