Calif. lawmakers want Medal of Honor for Peralta
By LEO SHANE III | STARS AND STRIPES Published: January 23, 2009
WASHINGTON — A group of California lawmakers has asked the White House to reconsider posthumously awarding Marine Sgt. Rafael Peralta the Medal of Honor, calling it an appropriate honor for his actions.
In a letter sent to the White House on Friday, the seven members of Congress request that President Obama upgrade the Navy Cross already given to Peralta’s family, or give a better explanation why the fallen Marine’s actions do not meet the criteria for the military’s highest honor.
“While the Navy Cross has been bestowed on hundreds of brave men and women since World War I, and we in no way wish to denigrate the memory or valor of those who received the award, we feel Sgt. Peralta’s bravery warrants the highest commendation our country can give: the Medal of Honor,” the letter stated.
Peralta was attached to the Okinawa-based 31st Marine Expeditionary Unit in November 2004 when he was shot performing house-to-house searches for insurgents.
Eyewitnesses said after falling to the ground mortally wounded, Peralta grabbed a live grenade and smothered it with his body, saving the Marines around him.
But last September, Secretary of Defense Robert Gates said medical and forensic experts said the bullet in Peralta’s brain would have prevented him from deliberately performing such a move, and thus he could not meet the standards for the Medal of Honor.
Requirements outlined by Congress for the medal state that along with conspicuous heroism the investigators must find “incontestable proof” of the circumstances. Last fall, Navy officials cited “conflicting evidence” in the case because of the lingering medical questions.
The lawmakers — Democrats Sen. Diane Feinstein, Sen. Barbara Boxer, Rep. Bob Filner and Rep. Susan Davis, as well as Republicans Reps. Brian Bilbray, Darrell Issa and Duncan Hunter — said the Defense Department has since rejected their requests to reopen the case.
“If a new review is not possible, we request that the administration detail its reasons for this change in precedent for this type of valor,” the letter states.
Fellow Marines and family members of Peralta told the Honolulu Star-Bulletin last month they are still petitioning both the Department and White House on the issue. His family has not actually been presented the Navy Cross from the Corps, nor have they requested the award.
Only four Medals of Honor have been awarded for actions in Iraq.