A third U.S. secretary of defense has denied a Medal of Honor for Sgt. Rafael Peralta, a Hawaii-based Marine who was killed in house-to-house fighting in Iraq in 2004.
Secretary of Defense Chuck Hagel announced Friday that he will not reopen the Medal of Honor nomination for Peralta.
“After extensively familiarizing himself with the history of Sgt. Peralta’s nomination, Secretary Hagel determined the totality of the evidence does not meet the ‘proof beyond a reasonable doubt’ Medal of Honor award standard,” the Pentagon said.
The Defense Department of Defense said it has taken “extraordinary measures” to ensure Sgt. Peralta’s nomination received full consideration.
Former defense secretaries Robert Gates and Leon Panetta, and now Hagel, have examined the case, “and each independently concluded the evidence does not support” the award of the Medal of Honor, the Pentagon said.
“The standard for the Medal of Honor is extremely high, as one would expect for our nation’s most prestigious military medal,” the Defense Department added. “Secretary Hagel and the department remain forever grateful to Sgt. Peralta for his selfless service to our nation.”
At least four Marines with Peralta on Nov. 15, 2004, in Fallujah, Iraq, stated in written reports that they saw the short and stocky Marine nicknamed “Rafa” pull a grenade to his body after it had bounced into a room, saving the lives of others.
The 25-year-old was with the 1st Battalion, 3rd Marine Regiment out of Kaneohe Bay.
However, in a Washington Post story published Friday, two of the Marines with Peralta now say the extraordinary valor was made up shortly after he was wounded.
A Medal of Honor recommendation for Peralta made it through examinations by the Marine Corps, U.S. Central Command and the Department of the Navy before being rejected by five individuals appointed in an unusual move by Gates, then defense secretary, to review the nomination.
Questions were raised as to whether Peralta, who may have been hit in the head by friendly fire, had the mental capacity to knowingly reach out and cradle the grenade.
A Navy Cross citation stated:
“Without hesitation and with complete disregard for his own personal safety, Sgt. Peralta reached out and pulled the grenade to his body, absorbing the brunt of the blast and shielding fellow Marines only feet away.”
Peralta was a Mexican immigrant from California who joined the Corps right after getting his green card. The Navy is naming a new destroyer after Peralta.