Rep. Duncan Hunter (R-Calif.) made news this week when his office staff unearthed the war-beaten rifle of late Marine Sgt. Rafael Peralta, evidence that he believes will support a push to grant Peralta the Medal of Honor some ten years after he was killed in combat in Iraq.
Along with photographs of the rifle and its mangled bullets, Hunter sent Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel four photos showing Peralta’s battle-torn flak jacket, the front of which shows shrapnel damage.
In a new eyewitness account put forward by Hunter’s office, a Marine amphibious assault vehicle section leader describes seeing the vest after the detonation of a low-yield grenade. Peralta’s Medal of Honor recommendation claimed he grabbed the live grenade and placed it under himself to protect his fellow Marines.
“I was about 10 to 20 feet away when (Peralta’s) flak jacket was removed from the transport vehicle and it looked like a mangled mess of fibers,” the Marine witness wrote in a statement. “The front ballistic plate was riffles with holes and barely being held in place with fibers of the garment. The back of the jacket seemed to be untouched by any damage. There was blood all over the garment.”
While the photos of the jacket were part of the award package initially submitted to Defense Secretary Robert Gates in 2008, none have ever been publicly released. With permission from Hunter’s office, we have posted one of them here.
Hunter argues that the damage the front of the jacket sustained proves Peralta consciously acted to pull the grenade underneath him, despite having been wounded in the head by a ricocheting bullet fragment.
“Evidence and professional opinion indicate he pulled the grenade into his body,” Hunter spokesman Joe Kasper said.
Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel’s office has said Hagel is familiarizing himself with the facts of the the incident, though Peralta’s case remains closed for now.
What do you think Hagel should do?