By Debbie Gregory.
Rep. Duncan Hunter (Rep. CA) is hoping that the fourth time’s the charm for fallen Marine Sgt. Rafael Peralta.
The lawmaker, a veteran Marine officer, sent a letter petitioning Defense Secretary Jim Mattis to review Peralta’s nomination for the Medal of Honor — a nomination that three previous defense secretaries have opted not to approve.
Peralta was posthumously awarded the Navy Cross. “Without hesitation and with complete disregard for his own personal safety, Sergeant Peralta reached out and pulled the grenade to his body, absorbing the brunt of the blast and shielding fellow Marines only feet away,” the citation read.
Peralta had been wounded by a bullet ricochet to the back of the head immediately before his death, and some investigators have questioned whether he could have been conscious and able to grab the grenade after sustaining that wound.
Peralta’s desire to become a Marine was sparked shortly after he moved to California as a teenager. A native of Mexico, he had moved from Tijuana to San Diego after his mother grew concerned that he could get swept up in gang violence.
Peralta, an undocumented immigrant during his first years in San Diego, enlisted the day his green card arrived in the mail in 2000.
Hunter’s letter came just days after the Navy took ownership of the USS Rafael Peralta, an Arleigh Burke-class guided missile destroyer named in honor of the fallen Marine.
Eyewitness accounts remain a sticky point in the Peralta case. Hunter notes that three Marines who were there in Fallujah during the firefight credit the sergeant with saving their lives.
A Marine colonel assigned to investigate the facts wrote in a Nov. 17, 2005, report that he was convinced that the Marines who testified to Peralta’s actions “gave an honest account.” He also found that Peralta was “probably” shot by friendly fire and listed both the gunshot and shrapnel wounds from the grenade as the cause of death.
“Jim Mattis can now make the right decision on this after others have failed to do that,” said Hunter.