- The Washington Times - Thursday, February 27, 2014

Ten years after a 2004 firefight in Iraq, Sgt. Rafael Peralta’s death continues to ignite controversy, with Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel last week refusing to reopen his nomination for the Medal of Honor and the Marine’s family accusing a newspaper of race-baiting in its reporting on the standoff.

Peralta’s mother, Rosa, said in a letter this week that a reporter for The Washington Post seemed intent on trying to get her to say her son was denied the Medal of Honor because he was Hispanic.

Some Marines who were on duty with Peralta on Nov. 15, 2004, the day he and his squad were clearing houses in Fallujah, were stunned that their comrades were now saying the story that Peralta scooped a grenade to himself, saving a number of Marines’ lives, was a concocted lie.

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“If you’re trying to smear the legacy of a Marine who’s a hero, who saved my life, then you’re barking up the wrong … tree,” said Nicholas Jones, one of the Marines in the room when insurgents tossed the grenade toward the troops.

Peralta received the Navy Cross for his actions, but his supporters — including Rep. Duncan Hunter, a California Republican who also served as a Marine officer in Fallujah during the Iraq War — say he deserves the Medal of Honor.

U.S. Secretary of Defense Chuck Hagel addresses the media after a meeting of NATO defense ministers at NATO headquarters in Brussels on Thursday, Feb. 27, 2014. NATO defense ministers, in a second day of meetings, discussed the situation in Ukraine and Afghanistan. (AP Photo/Geert Vanden Wijngaert)
U.S. Secretary of Defense Chuck Hagel addresses the media after a meeting ... more >

Mr. Hagel last week became the third defense secretary to reject the Medal of Honor for Peralta.

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“The Department of Defense has taken extraordinary measures to ensure Sgt. Peralta’s nomination received full consideration. Three separate secretaries of defense have now examined the case, and each independently concluded the evidence does not support award of the Medal of Honor,” the Pentagon said in a statement.

Soon after that decision, The Post published an extensive report on Peralta. Two Marines told the paper that the heroic story of the sergeant covering the grenade himself, absorbing the blast and shielding his comrades, is a lie.

“It has always bugged me,” Davi Allen, a Marine who was wounded in the grenade blast and who said it wasn’t underneath Peralta, told the newspaper. “I knew it’s not the truth. But who wants to be the one to tell a family: ‘Your son was not a hero’?”

Disputed details

Details of that day have been debated extensively.

As the Marines entered one room of a Fallujah house they were trying to clear, they encountered insurgents lying in wait. As the insurgents opened fire, Peralta was shot in the head and fell to the ground. The other Marines returned fire, and one of the insurgents threw a grenade toward them.

More than a dozen witnesses say the sergeant, lying on the ground, scooped the grenade underneath himself, absorbing the blast and saving the lives of the men with him.

Mr. Allen, though, told The Post that the grenade exploded near — but not underneath — Peralta. Reggie Brown, a Marine who was outside of the house after the fight, said he remembers a Marine suggesting a way to honor Peralta by saying he dived on the grenade.

The citation the government issued for Peralta’s Navy Cross seems to agree with the long-accepted version.

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