The grenade exploded beneath Marine Sgt. Rafael Peralta, who died that day, Nov. 15, 2004. Peralta’s body blunted the violent burst of the grenade, preventing several of his fellow Marines from sharing his fate.
These facts are not in dispute.
What remains in dispute — and has been since his death in Fallujah, Iraq — is whether Peralta, already wounded, consciously pulled the grenade under his body in a final, heroic act. That doubt has kept him from a posthumous Medal of Honor for four years. In 2008, Peralta was awarded the Navy Cross. His family has refused to accept it.
Now, with help from what supporters say is new evidence, a renewed push to secure for Peralta the nation’s highest military honor has landed his case on the desk of Defense Secretary Leon Panetta, according to a report Friday in the San Diego Union-Tribune.
The evidence added to support the case includes a video of Peralta’s body being removed from the scene. Taken by a filmmaker who had accompanied the Marines, it does not show leg wounds consistent with the original autopsy conclusion that the grenade exploded beneath Peralta’s legs.
Additionally, a noted pathologist reviewed the autopsy and other evidence, and concluded that Peralta was not incapacitated by a previous head wound.
Marines with Peralta that day have maintained that he pulled the grenade under him in a deliberate act.
Rep. Duncan Hunter, R-Calif., has championed the campaign for Peralta to receive the Medal of Honor. He told the newspaper that he spoke last week to Navy Secretary Ray Mabus, who confirmed that the nomination now resides with Panetta.
Final approval would come from the president.
Mabus has not commented publicly on the status of the nomination, and Hunter said he was unable to gauge its prospects after their conversation.
“I was paying attention to voice inflection and everything else, trying to get a take on what the decision might have been, but I got nothing,” Hunter said. “Sometimes the system works, but I’ve seen it not work a lot, too.”