May 8, 2009
By Congressman Bob Filner
On November 15, 2004, Sergeant Rafael Peralta, a 25 year old Marine from Chula Vista California, lost his life while on patrol in Fallujah, Iraq. Many Americans have heard the heroic story of Sgt. Peralta:
He and his team were assigned to clear houses as part of Operation Phantom Fury. Eye witness reports from fellow Marines assigned to Company A, 1st Battalion, 3rd Marine Regiment, stated that Sergeant Peralta led his team through a series of house clearings that day before charging into the fourth house. The team found two rooms empty on the ground floor. However, when Sgt. Peralta opened a third door, he was hit multiple times with AK-47 fire, leaving him severely wounded. His team returned fire, prompting insurgents to toss a grenade at the Marines. To save his team, Sgt. Peralta grabbed the grenade to absorb the brunt of the blast, sacrificing himself to save his fellow Marines. Today, Sgt. Rafael Peralta is buried in Fort Rosecrans National Cemetery in San Diego, California.
While many Americans have heard this story, what they do not know is the strange tale of why Sgt. Rafael Peralta was awarded the Navy Cross, instead of the Medal of Honor, for his heroic, selfless action in Fallujah.
Following the events of November 2004 and in recognition of Sergeant Peralta’s heroic efforts, his chain-of-command recommended him for the Medal of Honor in accordance with Department of Defense protocol. This nomination made its way through the Marine Corps to the Department of the Navy. Traditionally, once the Medal of Honor nomination is approved by the Department of the Navy, the Secretary of Defense signs the award and the Medal of Honor is presented by the President.
However, for some yet-to-be-determined reason, the Secretary of Defense chose to insert himself into the traditional process and create a special five member panel to investigate Sgt. Peralta’s nomination. It was this five member panel that determined that the eye witness accounts conflicted with other evidence, resulting in the Secretary of Defense taking the unprecedented and unusual step of over-turning the Department of the Navy’s recommendation that Sgt. Peralta be awarded the Medal of Honor. Instead, the Department of Defense awarded Sgt. Peralta the Navy Cross.
The decision raises several questions: Why did the Secretary of Defense deviate from the long established rules and processes and overturn the Department of the Navy recommendation? Is the Department of Defense going to use this “new” process to consider all future Medal of Honor nominations? What is the specific criteria that will be used by the Secretary of Defense to determine who should and who should not receive the Medal of Honor? And, finally, is the Department of Defense going to revisit all previously awarded medals and apply this new criteria? I think not!
The Medal of Honor is the highest military decoration awarded by the United States government. It is awarded to a service member who distinguishes himself “conspicuously by gallantry and intrepidity at the risk of his life above and beyond the call of duty while engaged in an action against an enemy of the United States.”
Sergeant Peralta’s selfless performance of duty was indeed extraordinary and in keeping with the greatest traditions and warrior spirit of ‘the few, the proud, the brave, the United States Marine Corps.’ Sergeant Peralta’s courageous sacrifice is truly deserving of this nation’s highest award!
I have followed closely Sgt. Peralta’s nomination for the Medal of Honor award from the original nomination, through the chain-of-command, to the Commandant of the Marine Corps, until its final approval by the Secretary of Navy. I do not understand why the Secretary of Defense felt the need to overturn the Medal of Honor nomination that Sgt. Peralta received from the Department of the Navy. However, I do know the solution to this problem: Sgt. Peralta should receive the duly-earned and greatly-deserved Medal of Honor. I look forward to the day when Sgt. Peralta’s mother, Rosa Marie Peralta, can bring the Medal of Honor home to San Diego.
Congressman Bob Filner, Representative for California’s 51st Congressional District, Chairman of the House Committee on Veterans Affairs