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IRAQ: Bush is asked to look at decision not to award Medal of Honor to Marine

September 19, 2008 |  3:18 pm

Peralta1_2

Six U.S. representatives from Southern California and both U.S. senators from the state petitioned President Bush on Friday to reevaluate the Pentagon's decision not to award the Medal of Honor to Marine Sgt. Rafael Peralta, killed in the battle for Fallouja in November 2004.

Led by Rep. Duncan Hunter (R-Alpine), the elected officials wrote to Bush to "express our extreme disappointment" at the Pentagon's decision to posthumously award the Navy Cross to Peralta. The Marine Corps had nominated him for the Medal of Honor, but Defense Secretary Robert Gates did not approve the nomination.

Instead, Navy Secretary Donald Winter announced this week that Peralta, whose family lives in San Diego, would receive the Navy Cross, second to the Medal of Honor for bravery. Peralta's family was devastated by the decision; Peralta's fellow Marines expressed anger and a sense of betrayal.

On the Navy Cross citation, Peralta is praised for throwing his body over a grenade during the house to house fighting, saving the lives of several Marines at the cost of his own.

Gates turned down the Medal of Honor nomination amid conflicting medical evidence about whether Peralta was already dead from a friendly fire gunshot when the grenade was thrown by insurgents. There is also disagreement about whether his wounds were consistent with absorbing the blast from a grenade.

Still, Marines who were with Peralta insist he grabbed the grenade and smothered it, saving their lives.

The letter, signed by Sen. Dianne Feinstein and Barbara Boxer (both Democrats), as well as Hunter, Rep. Darrell Issa (R-Vista), Rep. Brian Bilbray (R-Carlsbad), Rep. Susan Davis (D-San Diego), Rep. Bob Filner (D-Chula Vista) and Rep. Joe Baca (D-San Bernardino), notes the apparent contradiction: that the Navy Cross citation accepts that Peralta grabbed the grenade but that Gates, in rejecting him for the Medal of Honor, apparently does not.

The letter also notes that the only Medal of Honor bestowed on a Marine for the Iraq and Afghanistan wars went to Cpl. Jason Dunham, who was mortally wounded when he tried to smother a grenade.

"We therefore request that a review of Sgt. Peralta's case be undertaken and that, unless a strong distinction is drawn between his actions and those of Cpl. Dunham, [that] Sgt. Peralta be posthumously awarded the Medal of Honor."

— Tony Perry, San Diego

Photo: Sgt. Rafael Peralta. Credit: History Channel from documentary "Act of Honor."

P.S. The Los Angeles Times issues a free daily newsletter with the latest headlines from the Middle East, as well as the conflicts in Iraq and Afghanistan. You can subscribe by logging in at the website here, clicking on the box for "L.A. Times updates," and then clicking on the "World: Mideast" box.

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