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Medal Of Honor Still A Possibility For Rafael Peralta, Says Rep. Hunter

Sgt. Rafael Peralta (center)
Sgt. Rafael Peralta (center)

Chuck Hagel is now the third Secretary of Defense to consider whether fallen San Diego Marine Sgt. Rafael Peralta deserves the Medal of Honor.

Rep. Duncan Hunter sent Hagel a letter in October asking him to reconsider the evidence of Peralta's bravery, and a Hunter spokesman told U-T San Diego that the secretary is "looking at it seriously."

As Home Post previously reported, at issue is whether Peralta was conscious when he pulled a grenade to his body during a battle in Iraq in 2004, thus saving the lives of the men around him, while sacrificing his own.

The initial review of Peralta's case under Defense Secretary Robert Gates found the Marine did not knowingly cover the grenade with his body, as he had already been mortally injured. He was therefore awarded the Navy Cross instead of the Medal of Honor.

But Hunter, and members of the California congressional delegation, believed there was new compelling competing medical evidence that proved Peralta was conscious at the time of his life-saving actions - thus making him worthy of the Medal of Honor.

They took this evidence to Gates' successor, Leon Panetta. But Panetta again denied Peralta the Medal of Honor.

Perhaps the third time is the charm? Hunter hopes so. His spokesman, Joe Kasper, explained to U-T San Diego that because Hagel served as an enlisted infantryman in Vietnam, and was wounded in combat, he might be more empathetic to Peralta's cause:

“He has been in a situation as an enlisted soldier that allows him to relate and make sense of evidence that was clearly overlooked during previous reviews. Congressman Hunter believes very strongly that Secretary Hagel will do the right thing and look at the evidence with complete objectivity.”

And while Hagel has not officially reopened Peralta's case, Pentagon spokesman Carl Woog told U-T San Diego:

“Secretary Hagel is familiarizing himself with the history of the case so that he may appropriately respond to Rep. Hunter’s letter.”