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Rosa Peralta and Lt. Gen. Richard C. Zilmer unveil a plaque bearing Sgt. Rafael Peralta's name at a dedication ceremony Friday in which the 31st Marine Expeditionary Unit renamed its headquarters Peralta Hall. Rosa Peralta's son was killed in Fallujah, Iraq, Nov. 15, 2004, when he shielded other Marines from a grenade blast using his own body.

Rosa Peralta and Lt. Gen. Richard C. Zilmer unveil a plaque bearing Sgt. Rafael Peralta's name at a dedication ceremony Friday in which the 31st Marine Expeditionary Unit renamed its headquarters Peralta Hall. Rosa Peralta's son was killed in Fallujah, Iraq, Nov. 15, 2004, when he shielded other Marines from a grenade blast using his own body. (Cindy Fisher / S&S)

CAMP HANSEN, Okinawa — A Marine throws his already-wounded body on a grenade in order to spare the lives of his buddies.

It’s a heroic story Marine recruits often hear in basic training.

It is also the tale of 25-year-old Sgt. Rafael Peralta who died Nov. 15, 2004, in an insurgent safe house in northern Fallujah, Iraq, when he too shielded his fellow Marines from a grenade blast.

He was attached to the Camp Hansen-based 31st Marine Expeditionary Unit at the time. On Friday, the Okinawa unit named it’s headquarters in honor of Peralta’s sacrifice.

Peralta also is being considered for the Medal of Honor.

His dedication to his adopted country was evident even before this ultimate sacrifice.

Peralta, the oldest of four children, was born in Mexico City and spent much of his childhood in Tijuana. He immigrated to the San Diego area in 1995 when he was 16, so he could get away from bullies in his birth country, his mother, Rosa Peralta, said Friday.

He had learned about the Marine Corps from recruiters who visited the high school he graduated from in 1997 and decided he would enlist for the education benefits and to help his family, according to a History Channel documentary about Peralta.

He enlisted upon getting his green card in April 2000. He became a U.S. citizen while in the service.

Peralta was a platoon scout in Iraq with Company A, 1st Battalion, 3rd Marine Regiment, based out of Hawaii but attached to the 31st MEU. The unit was in Fallujah as part of Operation Phantom Fury.

In the documentary about Peralta, platoon mates recalled that he had a feeling he might not make it back.

He also sent letters home to family members before the battle. They arrived the day after his family learned of his death, according to the Honolulu Advertiser in a Nov. 23, 2004, story.

In the letters, he told his then 14-year-old brother, “Be proud of me bro, I’m going to make history and do something I always wanted to do.”

He also wrote, “If anything happens to me, just remember I lived my life to the fullest and I’m happy with what I’ve lived.”

Despite the bad feeling, Peralta was on the front line that day.

Though not assigned to assault teams — the first clear homes of insurgents — he routinely asked for the dangerous duty, as he did the day of his death, Marines later told The Army Times in November 2004.

Lance Cpl. T.J. Kaemmerer, a Marine journalist, was directly behind Peralta as they went into an insurgent safe house.

In a Dec. 2, 2004, article, Kaemmerer described how after the squad cleared the first few rooms, Peralta took the lead on another closed door.

He said Peralta threw open the door and Marines with him heard the “POP! POP! POP!” of an AK-47.

Peralta was hit several times in his upper torso and face at point-blank range by three insurgents waiting behind the door, Kaemmerer wrote.

He said that although Peralta was mortally wounded, he had the presence of mind to jump into an already cleared room to give his squad mates a clear line of fire.

Kaemmerer said that as Marines exchanged fire with insurgents, he saw a “yellow, foreign-made, oval-shaped grenade” bounce into the room near Peralta.

Then, Kaemmerer wrote, Peralta pulled the grenade under his body as he was losing consciousness.

“I watched in fear and horror as the other four Marines scrambled to the corners of the room and the majority of the blast was absorbed by Peralta’s now lifeless body.”

He attributes Peralta’s selflessness with preventing major injuries or deaths of the Marines in that room.

Kaemmerer remembered that later the night of Nov. 15, 2004, another Marine with the unit, Cpl. Richard A. Mason, told him, “You’re still here, don’t forget that. Tell your kids, your grandkids, what Sergeant Peralta did for you and the other Marines today.”

Sergeant’s selflessness inspired his comrades, his family

CAMP HANSEN, Okinawa — The Marines of the 31st Marine Expeditionary Unit have not forgotten the extraordinary sacrifice of Sgt. Rafael Peralta three years after he put his body between a grenade blast and his brothers-in-arms in Iraq.

During a ceremony Friday attended by Peralta’s mother and two siblings, the unit’s headquarters building at Camp Hansen was renamed Peralta Hall.

Lt. Gen. Richard C. Zilmer, commander for III Marine Expeditionary Force, said Peralta “epitomized the Marine Corps values, not only that day, but throughout his service. He is representative of an entire generation of young Americans” who have made sacrifices for the nation.

“How appropriate that this dedication is taking place during Hispanic American Heritage Month,” the general said.

The unit funded the trip for Peralta’s mother, Rosa Peralta, as well as his sister Karen and brother Ricardo. Rosa helped unveil the new placard commemorating her son’s sacrifice.

While Marines remember Peralta for the courage displayed while facing death, Rosa said she remembers her son for his life.

“He was a dancer. He loved to dance,” she said, adding that he lived life to the fullest and was proud of his military service.

“He would always say, ‘I am a Marine and I love women,’” she said.

His brother recalls that the sergeant had a very good job after high school. He built protective fire barriers for the California Conservation Corps.

“But he wanted something more. He wanted a challenge, so he joined the Marine Corps,” Ricardo said.

Calling his brother his hero, Ricardo, 17, said he plans to enlist in the Corps when he graduates high school.

Rosa admits she doesn’t want her other son to enlist, but she will always be proud of him and support him no matter what he does.

Said Ricardo: “I am doing this for my brother. I am proud to be an American, but I am doing this for my brother to make him proud.”

[BOLDFACE]— Cindy Fisher


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