California GOP Rep. Duncan Hunter has nominated deceased Marine Sgt. Rafael Peralta for the Medal of Honor, the fourth time Peralta has received the nomination, but this time around might be different because of new Secretary of Defense James Mattis.
While three previous secretaries of defense opted not to approve the nomination, Mattis may have an additional reason to see the nomination through: During the exact time when Peralta was killed in action in Fallujah, Iraq, Mattis was commanding the 1st Marine Division in the region, Military.com reports.
Peralta did in fact receive a Navy Cross for his bravery during a house-clearing mission in 2004 as part of 1st Battalion, 3rd Marines, 3rd Marine Division. There is some controversy surrounding Peralta’s acts of heroism, however, because some experts doubt that he managed to pull a grenade underneath him to protect his fellow troops. They think instead that he was likely not conscious enough to perform that maneuver, as a bullet had hit him in the back of the head.
But for Hunter, himself a retired Marine officer, Peralta’s case is of bureaucratic triumph over recognition of bravery and self-sacrifice.
“The benefit of Secretary Mattis [reviewing Peralta’s case] is that he’s commanded Marines in Iraq and he knows better than anyone in government right now — along with [Homeland Security] Secretary [John] Kelly — how politics can be infused in a valor award case and how the bureaucracy if left unchallenged will win every time,” Hunter spokesman Joe Kasper told Military.com.
According to Hunter, who has advocated on behalf of Peralta for years, eyewitnesses reported the scene of bravery, but experts at the Pentagon later shed doubt on the story by relying on what Hunter referred to as “questionable forensic evidence.”
Now with Mattis at the head of the Pentagon, Hunter is hopeful the warrior spirit will win out over the bureaucratic mindset, though two retired Marines who were with Peralta for the house-clearing mission, said the story about Peralta’s bravery was contrived and came about out of fear that Peralta may have actually been killed by friendly fire.
“Mattis is still at heart a U.S. Marine and he’s well aware that the Marine Corps, as an organization, fully endorsed Peralta’s Medal of Honor,” Kasper added in a statement. “Names like Mattis, Kelly and Dunford regularly came up as supporters of the award, but now it’s a new administration and there’s new hope for the Marine Corps, the Peralta family and anyone else who’s been passionate about Peralta’s legacy.”
A Navy destroyer has already been named in Peralta’s honor, but his family still hopes that Peralta, though deceased, will eventually be posthumously awarded the Medal of Honor.
Peralta, an immigrant from Mexico City, received his green card in 2000 and subsequently served in the Marine Corps. He grew up in San Diego, which is where Hunter serves as a member of Congress.
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