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Panetta denies Medal of Honor for Kaneohe Marine hero

    CTY Peralta 01_Marine Sgt. Rafael Peralta in Hawaii. Peralta died in Fallujah, Iraq. His fellow Marines say Peralta saved their lives by grabbing a grenade and putting it under his body, shielding the blast from them. Received_2008 december 28_

SAN DIEGO >> The secretary of defense has denied a request to upgrade a fallen Kaneohe Marine’s Navy Cross to the Medal of Honor, a San Diego congressman’s office said today.

The Pentagon told Rep. Duncan Hunter it supports the decision of former Defense Secretary Robert Gates, who honored Sgt. Rafael Peralta with the Navy Cross instead of the military’s highest honor.

Peralta, a member of the 1st Battalion, 3rd Marines, was not conscious when his body smothered a grenade in Iraq during the second battle of Fallujah in 2004, saving the lives of other Kaneohe Marines, Gates ruled in 2008.

The case was reopened this year after Hunter obtained a video of the battle action and a new forensics report. The lawmaker said the new evidence proved Peralta’s actions were intentional.

But defense officials found the new evidence was not sufficient to change the decision, said Joe Kasper, Hunter’s spokesman.

Pentagon spokesman Lt. Nate Christensen said he could not discuss the case, citing Defense Department policy to not comment on Medal of Honor nominations under consideration.

Navy Secretary Ray Mabus told reporters during a visit to Camp Pendleton last week that he had recommended Peralta be honored with the Medal of Honor.

Peralta’s family was informed of Defense Secretary Leon Panetta’s decision today, Kasper said.

Hunter’s office told them the congressman, a former combat Marine who served in Iraq and Afghanistan, would continue to fight to get the medal upgraded.

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