In the wake of new evidence about his heroism, a bipartisan group of lawmakers are urging Navy Secretary Ray Mabus to resubmit Marine Corps Sergeant Rafael Peralta for the Medal of Honor.
California Republican Rep. Duncan Hunter, a combat veteran who served in Iraq and Afghanistan, sent a formal request to Maybus Thursday urging him to take action on Peralta’s behalf.
California Democratic Sens. Dianne Feinstein and Barbara Boxer, along with four other San Diego area lawmakers — Reps. Bob Filner, Susan Davis, Brian Bilbray and Darrell Issa — joined Hunter in his request.
Peralta died saving the lives of fellow Marines by covering a grenade with his body in 2004 during the conflict in Iraq. His award was downgraded from the Medal of Honor to the Navy Cross in 2008 when the circumstances of his heroism were called into question by a scientific panel convened by then-Defense Secretary Robert Gates.
Contradicting a Marine Corps report and seven witnesses the panel concluded that a head wound rendered Peralta unable to consciously pull the grenade to his body. Based on those findings, Gates passed on awarding Peralta the military’s highest honor.
“The burden should not be on the Navy or Marine Corps to prove that Sergeant Peralta did what the evidence and witness accounts say he did,” said Hunter in a statement. “The responsibility for correcting this mistake rests with the Secretary of Defense, who is in the position to ensure Sergeant Peralta receives the recognition he should have received years ago.”
According to Hunter, new evidence — previously unavailable video content and a new report by forensic pathologist Vincent Di Maio — reaffirms “just how wrong Secretary Gates and his panel were in reaching their decision.”
Di Maio concluded that Peralta did, in fact, consciously trade his life for those of his comrades.
“Taking into account the circumstances surrounding the incident: the statements of the witnesses; the condition of the body armor; the autopsy findings; the opinion of the neurosurgeons and neurologist and my own experience with head wounds, it is my opinion that, in all medical probability, Sgt. Peralta was not immediately incapacitated by the brain injury, and in fact reached for the grenade and pulled it under his body,” Di Maio reported.
“Intentionally smothering a grenade to save the lives of others has been traditionally recognized by awarding the Medal of Honor,” added Hunter. “Sergeant Peralta’s actions and sacrifice are within the standard and tradition of the Medal of Honor — and it’s my hope that the Secretary of the Navy will do what’s right and lead the effort to provide Sergeant Peralta with the nation’s highest award for military valor.”
The Navy dedicated a vessel to Peralta in February.