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Steve Sebby, who was a combat photographer following Peralta’s unit that day, told The Times in November that the Pentagon’s own Navy Cross citation seems to confirm Peralta’s heroism. That citation says Peralta “reached out and pulled the grenade to his body.”

“If he didn’t do any of that stuff, like the forensic evidence says, then why would he rate that medal? It’s either the Medal of Honor or nothing. That’s what stands out in this case,” Mr. Sebby said. “In wars past, the amount of statements that were made by the Marines — that would have flown, that would have gotten the Medal of Honor back in World War II, World War I. You’ve got a bunch of honest Marines recognizing heroism, that would have been enough.”

Ms. Donald, Peralta’s sister, said the denial is not the end of the quest. The family could wait for a new defense secretary who might be willing to overturn the decisions of Mr. Gates and Mr. Panetta.

Peralta also is receiving another honor: With the backing of Mr. Mabus and Mr. Hunter, a destroyer will be named after him.