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Congressman renews efforts for Medal of Honor for fallen Marine

March 6, 2013 |  8:09 am

At the grave of Marine Sgt. Rafael Peralta at the Ft. Rosecrans National Cemetery in San Diego, his mother, Rosa, and sister, Karen, grieve. Credit: Don Bartletti / Los Angeles Times

Rep. Duncan Hunter (R-Alpine) is renewing his efforts to have the Medal of Honor awarded to a Marine from San Diego killed in combat in Iraq.

In 2008, then-Defense Secretary Robert M. Gates ruled the actions of Sgt. Rafael Peralta did not merit the nation's highest award for bravery. Last December, Gates' successor, Leon E. Panetta, declined to overrule the decision, although he noted Peralta's courage and faithful service.

But Hunter, who served in Iraq and Afghanistan as a Marine officer, hopes the new defense secretary, former Nebraska Sen. Chuck Hagel, might overrule Panetta and Gates and upgrade the Navy Cross awarded to Peralta for his bravery during the battle in Fallouja in November 2004. Hagel, Hunter noted, served in combat in Vietnam as an Army enlisted man.

The congressman is circulating a proposed resolution among other legislators favoring the Medal of Honor for Peralta, 25, a Mexican immigrant who enlisted on the day he received his "green card" and was killed during a house-clearing mission.

Marines who were at the scene have said that as he lay mortally wounded, Peralta reached out and smothered an enemy grenade, saving the lives of several Marines. The Marine Corps recommended Peralta for the Medal of Honor, as did the secretary of the Navy.

But an expert panel assembled by Gates recommended against the honor, based on a medical opinion that Peralta had been killed instantly by friendly fire and could not have consciously smothered the grenade. Also, a pathologist report concluded that the grenade exploded one to three feet away from Peralta, not beneath his body.

Hunter insists that a documentary film not released when the original decision was made contradicts the pathologist's conclusion about the location of the grenade. Specifically, he said, video of Peralta's body being taken from the house shows no leg wounds consistent with an explosion in such proximity.

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-- Tony Perry in San Diego

Photo: At the grave of Marine Sgt. Rafael Peralta at the Ft. Rosecrans National Cemetery in San Diego, his mother, Rosa, and sister, Karen, grieve. Credit: Don Bartletti / Los Angeles Times

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