United States Marine Sergeant Rafael Peralta, 25, a Mexican citizen the day he died, was shot during a firefight inside a house during the second battle of Fallujah. He has been awarded the second highest American medal for bravery, the Navy Cross, for what he did that day.
From Tijuana, Mexico, Peralta attended San Diego schools on a student visa and applied for a “green card” while in high school. The day his “green card” came through he joined the Marines.
A note of interest, I wrote about Peralta before. He did in fact join the Marines when his Permanent Resident Card (green card) came through. An anti-Mexican critic in Boise, Idaho published an article criticizing the American government for granting “amnesty” to Peralta. She did so without any evidence that Peralta was ever an illegal alien. The Boise newspaper printed her unfounded accusation as if it was truth.
On November 15, 2004, Peralta led six Marines in a house-to-house search for Iraqi insurgents in the famous Battle of Fallujah. The group took fire from a house where Peralta was shot in the face and body when he kicked in the front door.
An insurgent threw a grenade that landed on the floor next to wounded Peralta. He grabbed the grenade and hugged it to his chest, “without hesitation and with complete disregard for his own safety,” the Navy Cross citation says.
By hugging the exploding grenade to his chest Peralta saved the lives of several Marines a few feet away, Marine Corps officials have told reporters.
Many thought Peralta would be awarded a Medal of Honor, the country’s highest award, but after a four year long investigation that was not to be. Some investigators think Peralta was actually wounded in the first instance by “friendly fire” from other Marines nearby.
There is much disappointment among Marines whose lives were saved by Peralta when he smothered the exploding grenade that should have killed them. Robert Reynolds, 31, for example, a former Marine who credits Peralta with saving his life said the Pentagon’s decision insults his personal honor.
He is quoted in newspapers: “I feel like the Navy Cross is a cop-out,” says Reynolds of Ritzville, Wash. “I was 5 meters away. I saw what happened. I feel like they’re calling me a liar.”
Former Marine George Sabga, a lawyer and friend of the Peralta family, says leaders of the Marine Corps and U.S. Central Command agreed that Peralta’s heroism merited the Medal of Honor. The President even mentioned Sergeant Peralta in a Memorial Day speech anticipating that the Marine Corps and secretary of the Navy would recommend the Medal of Honor for Peralta. They did in fact make that recommendation and that is all that should be necessary.
Three other Americans (one Marine, one soldier and one sailor) have been awarded the Medal for the exact same life-saving action with enemy grenades in Iraq and Afghanistan.
Department of Defense civilians downgraded the award from Medal of Honor to Navy Cross, according to Sagba. This downgrading occurred despite President Bush’s apparent support for the Medal.
Peralta’s mother asks if the Medal is being denied because her son was “Hispanic.” No, despite no Hispanics yet receiving the Medal for service in Iraq or Afghanistan, 36 such Medals of Honor have been awarded to Mexican citizens, Mexican Americans and Puerto Ricans since 1942.
The question is, should civilians be allowed to decide who should be awarded medals? I don’t think so. While there is and should be civilian supremacy in authority over the military, military internal affairs should not be.
French Prime Minister Georges Clemenseau said during WW I that “War is too serious to leave to generals.” Taking some liberty, I’d like to change that to, “Medals of Honor are too serious to leave to Department of Defense civilians.”
Contreras produces and anchors “News & Views 61” on San Diego’s TV, his books are available at amazon.com and barnesandnoble.com.