A Marine previously denied Medal of Honor status after his heroic actions during a 2004 battle in Iraq has again been not awarded the valor upgrade, after Defense Secretary Leon Panetta re-investigated the death of Marine Sgt. Rafael Peralta and determined the soldier’s heroic actions were not provably deserving.
Sgt. Peralta, the Marine denied a Medal of Honor, was engaged in a battle with insurgents in Fallujah when he was fatally struck in the head in what has been deemed friendly fire. As Peralta fell, he cradled a thrown grenade, absorbing the device’s impact — shielding his fellow troops from the blast in a final act of heroism.
The Marine was again denied the Medal of Honor after it was determined that — contrary to eyewitness reports indicating Sgt. Peralta deliberately intercepted the grenade — the dying soldier was impaired by his mortal wounds from performing such a gesture. A medical examiner appointed to re-examine the case determined that what other Marines report as Peralta’s final, selfless act was “impossible,” given the scope of his injuries.
Panetta spoke of the decision to deny Sgt. Peralta, who has been awarded the Navy Cross, the higher level of valor, quoted by the Washington Times as saying:
“In light of the strict standards that have been established for awarding the Medal of Honor and the fact that a thorough review of the evidence has not indicated ‘proof beyond a reasonable doubt,’ I cannot in good conscience change the recommendation of Secretary Robert Gates … [Evidence casts] more than a reasonable doubt. To disregard this evidence, or to abandon the beyond-a-reasonable-doubt standard for the MOH, would also be unfair to all others considered for the MOH but whose heroic actions fell just short of this rigorous evidentiary standard.”
House Rep. Duncan Hunter (D-CA) has advocated for Sgt. Peralta’s posthumous valor upgrade, and the Iraq and Afghanistan vet and congressman says he is “beyond disappointed” by the decision that denied the fallen Marine a Medal of Honor.
Hunter was informed of the decision in a letter following up on his advocacy for Peralta, and in a statement, the congressman remarks:
“For the first and only time on record, Secretary [Robert] Gates formed a scientific panel consisting of several forensic experts to refute the findings and recommendation of both the Marine Corps and the Navy. Until then, there was absolutely no disagreement that Sergeant Peralta’s actions were in the spirit and tradition of the Medal of Honor. Secretary Gates manufactured the doubt — the same doubt that led Secretary Panetta not to award the Medal of Honor.”
According to the Marine Corps Times, Rep. Hunter has pledged to continue to appeal the decision to deny Sgt. Peralta the Medal of Honor designation.