Calif. college dedicates garden to Sgt. Rafael Peralta, Navy Cross recipient

Jonathan White with Southwestern College escorted Sgt. Rafael Peralta's mother, Rosa Peralta, at a ceremony to dedicate a garden at the school to the fallen marine.


By JOSHUA STEWART | The San Diego Union-Tribune (Tribune News Service) | Published: November 7, 2017

Southwestern College on Tuesday dedicated a garden to the memory of Sgt. Rafael Peralta, a Marine who attended the college’s police academy.

The simple garden outside the school’s veterans center is intended to honor the sacrifice Peralta made when his body covered an exploding grenade and he was mortally wounded. His family and school officials hope the memorial becomes a lasting reminder of the value of public service and inspires students to give their talents to their communities.

“For us, as a family, it means a lot,” said Icela Peralta, Rafael Peralta’s sister. Her children didn’t get to meet their uncle, and she hopes the memorial garden can help them and others understand what he stood for.

“He’s a role model for my daughters,” Icela Peralta said. “They understand that our freedom is not free. When they see mom and grandma crying, they understand why.”

Tim Nader, governing board president of the Southwestern Community College District, said the garden will inspire students to make public service a part of their lives.

“I hope it conveys to them an example of the selfless service veterans represent and exemplify,” Nader said.

The garden is symbolic of the school’s relationship to student veterans, said Jim Jones, a former Southwestern employee who is now a liaison to schools for the Department of Veterans Affairs.

“It just shows the promise that this college commits to taking steps for our veterans,” he said.

Born in Mexico City, Peralta immigrated to the United States and enlisted as soon as he could receive a green card. He became a citizen while serving. He had long wanted to become a Marine, family said, and his bedroom walls bore three documents — the Constitution, the Bill of Rights and a certificate he received when he graduated from boot camp.

Peralta was killed on Nov. 15, 2004, during the Second Battle of Fallujah in Iraq. He was posthumously awarded the Navy Cross, the nation’s second-highest award for battlefield bravery. The citation for the commendation said Peralta and his squad got into a firefight while clearing insurgents from houses. Peralta had been shot, and an enemy combatant threw a fragmentation grenade into a building.

“Without hesitation and with complete disregard for his own personal safety, Sergeant Peralta reached out and pulled the grenade to his body, absorbing the brunt of the blast and shielding fellow Marines only feet away,” the citation said.

The Navy also named a destroyer after Peralta. It’s tradition to name that class of warship after decorated service members. The ship was commissioned in July.

At Southwestern, the garden sits atop a small hill in one of the college’s courtyards and includes ornamental rocks placed alongside flags from the military services, the POW/MIA Flag and the American Flag. The school said the garden will be illuminated around the clock. It adjoins the school’s Walk of Honor, a memorial to past students who have served in the military.

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