SDPD posthumously honors hero Marine
By: TERI FIGUEROA - Staff Writer

First came the bullets to his torso and his face. The automatic gunfire struck Sgt. Rafael Peralta the second he opened that door in a Fallujah house on Nov. 15, 2004.

Then, as Peralta lay dying, came the grenade, lobbed into the room with him and five other Marines.

Most scrambled for cover. The mortally wounded Peralta pulled the deadly yellow oval underneath his body.

It was his last act. The San Diego man, a Morse High School graduate, was 25 years old.

But the young Marine had wanted someday to be a member of the San Diego Police Department. So on Monday, the Police Department granted Peralta's wish, posthumously tapping him as an honorary member.

"We would have hired him the second he came out of the Marine Corps," San Diego police Chief William Lansdowne told the audience at the Bob Hope Theater at Miramar Marine Corps Air Station.

Lansdowne then presented Peralta's mother with the same type of badge worn by San Diego police.

Peralta's honors came during a San Diego Police Department ceremony at which eight new lieutenants and 20 new sergeants were promoted within the department. Fourteen others also were promoted and 29 employees and civilians were honored for meritorious service.

Peralta's mother, Rosa, and his siblings were on hand for the honor for the late Marine. Speaking through a Spanish-language interpreter before the ceremony, Rosa Peralta said she was pleased that her son has not been forgotten.

It has been 17 months since the deadly blast took him, and Rosa Peralta said that she keeps his room "as if he was still coming home."

Except now, it also holds some of his awards.

Someday, it may also host the nation's highest award, the Medal of Honor, for which Peralta has been nominated.

Peralta's Hollywood-style heroism has already earned him honors from the Los Angeles Police Department. And less than a week ago, Peralta's family was in Hawaii to accept the state's Medal of Honor, given out last Tuesday to 120 people who died in Iraq or Afghanistan and who had ties to the islands.

Also honored by Hawaii last week were: Army Spc. Ramon C. Ojeda, 22, of Ramona; Marine Lance Cpl. Mourad Ragimov, 20, of Carmel Valley; Army Spc. Glenn J. Watkins, 42, of Carlsbad; Army Spec. Mike T. Sonoda, 34, of Fallbrook; and Army Sgt. Paul C. Neubauer, 40, of Oceanside.

Peralta had been stationed on the Hawaiian island of Oahu, a part of the 1st Battalion, 3rd Marine Regiment.

Rosa Peralta said she understood why her oldest child had died so selflessly.

"He had so much love for his Marines," she said, tears welling in her eyes. On her dress, she wore a pin with a photo of her late son. "I'm very proud and I'm still proud. ... He saved other lives and sacrificed his own."

Peralta's mother said Rafael came to the United States from Mexico when he was just 15. And the day after he won his citizenship, she said, he joined the Marines. He was 19.

His family soon followed him to the country and they settled in near downtown San Diego.

The young Marine had been in Iraq for five months ---- it was his first deployment ---- when he died.

"I'm extremely proud of him," Peralta's 15-year-old brother, Ricardo, said moments before the Monday ceremony. "I want to be just like him. He is my hero."

And that, the teenager said, includes a desire to join the Marines and fight in Iraq.

The boy smiled as he recalled his oldest sibling, who he said loved to dance, loved to play soccer and would "go to the gym everyday."

His older brother penned a letter to him just days before the blast. The teenager turned his head and swallowed back tears as he spoke of it.

Rosa Peralta said her son ---- a boy who loved Mexican food, who loved dancing the salsa ---- had wanted to be a policeman to bring justice to the world, and that she and her late husband taught him to respect others.

As fate would have it, Peralta spent his final moments in front of military war correspondent Lance Cpl. T. J. Kaemmerer, who penned the account of Peralta's death. Datelined on Dec. 2, 2004, the story of Peralta's heroism appears on the Marine Corps Web site.

Kaemmerer reported that he personally put down his camera that day and volunteered to join fellow Marines, rifle in hand, on a mission to clear buildings that lined the streets of the battle-gripped Iraqi city.

Kaemmerer was part of a six-man group, dubbed a "stack." Peralta was a part of the same group. Two stacks teamed up that morning, going house to house to ferret out insurgents.

According to Kaemmerer, Peralta was a platoon scout, and could have stayed behind in safety, but instead joined the house-clearing mission.

Peralta died in the fourth house the stacks hit. First the automatic gunfire, then the grenade.

Kaemmerer watched as the dying Peralta pulled the nearby grenade to him and smothered it with 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," Kaemmerer wrote. "His selflessness left four other Marines with only minor injuries from the smaller fragments of the grenade."

Fire began to consume the house. The Marines escaped.

But very soon, they went back ---- facing not only flames but also threats that insurgent artillery stashed in the house might explode ---- and pulled out Peralta's body.

They later learned that another group of Marines found and killed the three insurgents.

Peralta was not married, and had no children. His father died two years before Peralta did, in a work-related accident, Rosa Peralta said.

Rafael Peralta also has three surviving siblings, two sisters (one is 25, the other is 14) and his 15-year-old brother.

He is buried at Fort Rosecrans National Cemetery in Point Loma.

Contact staff writer Teri Figueroa at (760) 631-6624 or

To read Kaemmerer's Dec. 2, 2004 account of Peralta's final moments, go to and enter "Rafael Peralta" in the search bar.