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Rep. Hunter asks that combat awards be upgraded to Medal of Honor

Rep. Duncan Hunter (R-Alpine), who served in Iraq and Afghanistan as a Marine officer, has asked the new secretary of Defense to consider upgrading the medals given to several service personnel for combat bravery to Medals of Honor.

In a letter Tuesday to Defense Secretary Leon Panetta, Hunter said that it was a "common complaint that the current award submission process for the Medal of Honor is so onerous and intimidating" that commanders routinely recommend only a lesser award.

Among the cases that Hunter said should be reviewed is that of a Marine from San Diego killed in combat in Fallouja, Iraq, in November 2004.

Sgt. Rafael Peralta, 25, died from a grenade blast while Marines were storming houses where insurgents were barricaded.

Marines at the battle said Peralta was attempting to smother a grenade to protect his fellow Marines. Marine brass nominated him for the Medal of Honor.

But Panetta's predecessor, Robert Gates, decided instead to award Peralta the Navy Cross because of a medical dispute about whether Peralta's action was voluntary or whether he was already dead from a gunshot wound when the grenade exploded.

The Peralta family, grief stricken that the Medal of Honor recommendation was not approved, has declined to accept the Navy Cross.

"There is no amount of time or difficulty that should prevent us from ensuring we properly recognize the heroism and sacrifice of this generation's combat heroes," Hunter wrote.


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--Tony Perry in San Diego

Photo: The family of Sgt. Rafael Peralta, at their home in San Diego soon after learning of his death in Iraq. Credit: Glenn Koenig / Los Angeles Times

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