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IRAQ: Sgt. Rafael Peralta to be remembered for bravery, not awards.

September 23, 2008 |  9:29 am

Peralta_2If history is any guide, the odds are against the idea that President Bush, or his successor, will overrule the Pentagon and award the Medal of Honor to Marine Sgt. Rafael Peralta as several lawmakers and a Latino veterans group have suggested.

It would not be unprecedented, however. President Carter overruled his secretary of defense to bestow the medal on a Marine who fought at Guadalcanal.

But in most cases, the original decision stands, according to a report done by the Congressional Research Service at the Library of Congress in 1998.

The Marine Corps nominated Peralta for the Medal of Honor for having smothered a grenade during house-to-house fighting in Fallouja, Iraq, in November 2004, losing his life but saving other Marines.

Reconsiderations are best based on the discovery of new facts or some sort of problems with the process, and neither seems the case with Defense Secretary Robert Gates' decision late last week to award the Navy Cross rather than the Medal of Honor.

In its report, the research service notes that the Medal of Honor is meant to be restricted to those cases of heroism that are beyond debate or dispute.

In explaining Gates' decision, military spokesmen made just that point: There is disputed evidence about whether Peralta was already clinically dead when the insurgents tossed a grenade at Marines. Also in dispute is whether his body showed the kind of wounds that would be expected if he had tried to smother a grenade.

There is no dispute, however, among the Marines who fought beside Peralta. Five told Marine investigators that they saw Peralta, already gravely wounded, reach out and scoop up the grenade.

In comments published in the Marine Corps Times yesterday, Sgt. Major Carlton Kent, the senior enlisted Marine, urged Marines not to let their anger at the medal decision detract from their respect for Peralta. Kent was part of a committee that had recommended the Medal of Honor for Peralta.

When recruits come to boot camp, Kent said, they will learn about Peralta in the same context as other Marine heroes, including the legendary "Chesty" Puller, possibly the most famous Marine in history.

"Sgt. Peralta will be remembered for his actions, not the award he did or did not receive," Kent said.

-- Tony Perry, in San Diego

Photo: Sgt. Rafael Peralta. Credit: Marine Corps

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