Heroic act, medal denied – and a debate
Defense Secretary Robert Gates questioned a fallen marine's award for
covering a grenade to save his comrades.
(Page 2 of 2)
The initial investigation acknowledged, however, that Peralta had nonetheless grabbed the live grenade when it rolled next to him and held it close to his chest before it exploded, killing him but shielding the other marines in the room from the blast.Skip to next paragraph
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Cpl. Jason Dunham, another marine, received the Medal of Honor posthumously last year after he placed his helmet over a live grenade to shield marines nearby in another firefight in 2004.
But Mr. Gates had lingering concerns, and he asked five individuals, including a neurosurgeon and two forensic pathologists, to review the Peralta case.
Using additional forensic information not available during the initial investigation, according to a defense official, each of the five individually concluded that Peralta's act, while heroic, did not merit a Medal of Honor. The findings focused on doubt as to whether Peralta could have performed this deliberate act after being mortally wounded. Gates agreed that that left enough doubt.
"Secretary Gates did not arrive at this decision lightly, which is evident by the rigorous and thorough review that was conducted," says Bryan Whitman, a Pentagon spokesman. "This decision in no way detracts from Sergeant. Peralta's courageous and selfless sacrifice."
The review that led to Gates's decision points up how the awards process has changed significantly over the years. Whereas at one time eyewitness accounts almost always sufficed, now technology has crept in.
In this particular action, there was some contradictory evidence that warranted further review, according to Mr. Whitman, because the standard for the Medal of Honor is extremely high and by instruction "there must be no margin of doubt or possibility of error in awarding this honor."
But the Peralta family say that if he was not awarded the Medal of Honor because there was doubt about whether his act was truly deliberate, then there is a contradiction in the citation for the Navy Cross award, which appears to note Peralta's deliberate act: "Without hesitation and with complete disregard for his own personal safety, Sergeant Peralta reached out and pulled the grenade to his body, absorbing the brunt of the blast and shielding fellow Marines only feet away," reads the citation in part.
Peralta's mother, Rosa, has said she will not accept the Navy Cross award out of protest, saying it is a slight against her son, who was born in Mexico in 1979 and enlisted in the Marine Corps the same day he received his green card.
But she may reconsider and accept the award after all in coming weeks, says a family spokesman, George Sabga. If nothing is done now, new evidence could be presented later to upgrade the award. In other cases, the nation's highest military award has been made years later.
For now, the news has not gone over well across the Marine Corps, a service known for its tradition and history and where Peralta's act had already become a legend.
Former marine Reynolds, meanwhile, says that when Peralta saved his life, it gave him a new perspective, a sense of purpose as he raises his young children. "I have a second chance," he says.