Sgt. Rafael Peralta’s case for the Medal of Honor has shifted again, according to a congressman who has pressed the Pentagon to review new evidence that he says shows the Marine chose to smother a grenade to save his buddies in Iraq.
Peralta, 25, died Nov. 15, 2004, in Fallujah. He was awarded the Navy Cross in 2008 for disregarding his own personal safety while already mortally wounded, pulling the grenade to his body, “absorbing the brunt of the blast and shielding fellow Marines only feet away,” according to his award citation.
Despite the extraordinary heroism, then-Defense Secretary Robert Gates shot down Peralta’s case for the Medal of Honor in 2008, leading the Navy Department to authorize the Navy Cross instead. Pentagon officials cited “contradictory evidence” on whether he had the cognitive ability to choose to cover the grenade despite already being mortally wounded in the head, outraging his family, fellow Marines and veterans.
The Navy Department acknowledged in March that it was reviewing new evidence — two videos recorded shortly after the blast by fellow Marines and a new pathology report — but declined to characterize the move as a “re-opening” of the case.
Rep. Duncan Hunter, R.-Calif., told Marine Corps Times on Thursday that Navy Secretary Ray Mabus said the Navy Department has now made a recommendation on what to do with that evidence to Defense Secretary Leon Panetta. Mabus didn’t share what the recommendation is, Hunter said.
“To be honest,” Hunter said, “I couldn’t tell one way or the other from talking to Secretary Mabus which way they were going on this.”
From the outside looking in, it’s hard to say what the shift back to SECDEF could mean. Based on prior valor cases, it seems likely the Navy Department would have squashed the case to re-open Peralta’s case for the MOH if they didn’t see grounds to do so, rather than passing the buck to the Defense Department.
As a footnote, it’s worth noting that almost eight years of back-and-forth on this has been exceedingly difficult on the Peralta family. Still, Rafael’s little brother, Ricardo, now serves in the Marine Corps infantry.