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Lawmakers seek Medal of Honor for San Diego Marine

March 1, 2012 | 11:04 am

A bipartisan group of California legislators has asked the secretary of the Navy to reconsider a request from the Marine Corps that the Medal of Honor be awarded posthumously to a Marine from San Diego killed in Iraq.

The group says newly discovered video and a report from a noted-pathologist merit a review of the decision by then-Secretary of Defense Robert Gates not to recommend that the Medal of Honor be awarded to Sgt. Rafael Peralta.

Peralta, 25, an immigrant from Mexico, was killed in November 2004 while Marines were clearing insurgents from barricaded homes in Fallouja.

INTERACTIVE: California’s War Dead, Rafael Peralta

Marines who were with Peralta said that even as he lay dying from a gunshot to the head, he reached out and pulled an enemy grenade beneath his body to shield his fellow Marines, saving their lives.

Based on eyewitness accounts, the Marine Corps nominated Peralta for the Medal of Honor.

Two neurosurgeons concluded Peralta, while dying, was still able to pull the grenade under his body. But a pathologist who performed the autopsy disagreed, saying Peralta was already clinically dead and that wounds on his upper body were inconsistent with him having smothered a grenade explosion.

In the face of contradictory conclusions, Gates rejected the Medal of Honor nomination for Peralta but approved the Navy Cross. Gates' action angered many Marines and members of the Peralta family.

Now, the San Diego congressional delegation and both U.S. senators from California have asked Navy Secretary Ray Mabus to reconsider the nomination for forwarding to Secretary of Defense Leon Panetta.

The group cites video recently released by the History Channel that shows Peralta's body being removed from the house. The video, taken by a filmmaker who was following Marines during the battle, does not show the kind of leg wounds that would likely be present if the grenade, as the pathologist concluded, had exploded near Peralta's leg instead of underneath his body as the Marines insisted.

Also being submitted is a review of the autopsy and other clinical evidence done by Dr. Vincent Di Maio, a forensic pathologist from San Antonio. He backs the conclusion of the neurosurgeons from the Naval Medical Center San Diego that Peralta was not immediately incapacitated by the head wound.

"Sgt. Peralta's actions and sacrifice are within the standard and tradition of the Medal of Honor," said Rep. Duncan Hunter (R-Alpine), a Marine veteran of Iraq and Afghanistan. "It's my hope that the secretary of the Navy will do what's right."


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Photo: Rosary, candle and picture of Sgt. Rafael Peralta at the family home in San Diego. Credit: Glenn Koenig / Los Angeles Times