Originally published December 13, 2012 at 11:30 a.m., updated December 13, 2012 at 2:52 p.m.
Karen Peralta - Sgt. Peralta's younger sister
Ret. Marine Lt. Colonel Jack Harkins, chair of the United Veterans council of San Diego County.
Beth Ford Roth, KPBS Military Blogger
Secretary of Defense Letter regarding Sgt. Peralta
The U.S. Department of Defense once again refused a posthumous Medal of Honor to a San Diego Marine.
A letter released Thursday from U.S. Defense Secretary Leon Panetta confirms the government's decision to deny a posthumous Medal of Honor to San Diego Marine Sgt. Rafael Peralta. Peralta died in 2004 in Fallujah, Iraq.
As KPBS' Home Post reported in June, the decision to award the medal hinged on whether or not Peralta was conscious when he pulled a grenade to his body during a battle in Iraq in 2004, saving the lives of the men around him. While the Marines in his squad said he knowingly used his body to block the grenade explosion, a medical review of Peralta's case found he had already been mortally injured when he fell on the grenade.
Karen Peralta, Peralta's younger sister, told KPBS the news that the medal had been denied again was a big shock to her family.
"We had our hopes up really high," she said. "People were saying that he was going to receive it this time. And it was just a surprise that they denied it once again."
Karen Peralta said her brother had always wanted to join the Marines, and signed up as soon as he had his green card.
"The Marines was his life," she said. "He loved the military."
Last summer Congressman Duncan Hunter Jr. and members of the California congressional delegation called on Navy Secretary Ray Mabus and Panetta to review new medical evidence that they believed proved Peralta was conscious at the time of his actions, thus making him worthy of the Medal of Honor.
In 2008 the Navy awarded Peralta a Navy cross for falling on the grenade to save his fellow Marines. Despite reports that the Peralta family has refused the cross, Karen Peralta told KPBS they just have not picked it up yet.
"We just haven't had time to pick it up as a family," she said. "My brother was in Iraq, so we didn't have time at that moment. And now we're just waiting. But we haven't refused it, we haven't said no. It's his now already. But we just as a family haven't had time to go and receive it."
Ret. Marine Lt. Colonel Jack Harkins, chair of the United Veterans Council of San Diego County, told KPBS the Medal of Honor has a special distinction because it is the only military decoration awarded on behalf of Congress.
"And additionally, the medal has a great deal of prestige because of the very well known and revered persons who were recipients who became very well known to the American public," he said. "Going back as far as to World War I with Sgt. Alvin York, a great hero of the war being so well known and long admired and revered."
Claire Trageser and Beth Ford Roth contributed to this report.