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USS Peralta to Be Christened

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Veteran News
October 26, 2015
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USS Peralta to be christened

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peralta navy cross

The President of the United States of America takes pride in presenting the Navy Cross (Posthumously) to Sergeant Rafael Peralta, United States Marine Corps, for extraordinary heroism while serving as Platoon Guide with 1st Platoon, Company A, First Battalion, Third Marines, Regimental Combat Team 7, FIRST Marine Division, in action against Anti-Coalition Forces in support of Operation AL FAJAR, in Fallujah, Iraq, on 15 November 2004. Clearing scores of houses in the previous three days, Sergeant Peralta asked to join an under-strength squad and volunteered to stand post the night of 14 November, allowing fellow Marines more time to rest. The following morning, during search and attack operations, while clearing the seventh house of the day, the point man opened a door to a back room and immediately came under intense, close-range automatic weapons fire from multiple insurgents. The squad returned fire, wounding one insurgent. While attempting to maneuver out of the line of fire, Sergeant Peralta was shot and fell mortally wounded. After the initial exchange of gunfire, the insurgents broke contact, throwing a fragmentation grenade as they fled the building. The grenade came to rest near Sergeant Peralta's head. 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. Sergeant Peralta succumbed to his wounds. By his undaunted courage, intrepid fighting spirit, and unwavering devotion to duty, Sergeant Peralta reflected great credit upon himself and upheld the highest traditions of the Marine Corps and the United States Naval Service.[/caption]For any Marine who served in the Theater of Fallujah in 2004, the name Sgt Rafael Peralta may sound familiar. He is a Marine who gave his life for his platoon, and this October marks the dedication and christening of a new destroyer in the fleet named after our fallen hero. It’s important that as this ship makes it’s future voyages out to sea, we know the story behind the name “USS Rafael Peralta.”On the morning of November 15, a platoon from 1st battalion 3rd Marines was caught in a close range firefight in a house during a patrol through the streets of Fallujah, Iraq. Sgt Peralta had volunteered himself to go out on that patrol, when it became evident to him that there was no platoon sgt assigned to the platoon for that particular morning. Taking the fourth spot behind the point man, the Alpha company platoon made its way through the first six houses on that block. Their mission was to move from street to street and remove the insurgency who lay waiting in various areas with traps set, and thousands of mercenaries ready to fight the American forces.The seventh house was set with insurgents in the main room, waiting with their AK-47s trained on the door, poised to attack as soon as the front of the house was breached. Once the point man had made his way into the house and the other Marines started to filter in, a blaze of gunfire erupted inside, from the back door of the living room. The spray of bullets struck Sgt. Peralta in the head and chest, who was the fourth man in the line of Marines filtering into the room. He fell to the floor, making room for LCpl Morrison, the saw gunner, to return fire. As the insurgents ducked out the back door of the room, one threw a grenade back towards the Marines, landing near Peralta’s body. As one final act of heroism before he lost consciousness, Peralta scooped the grenade into his body, absorbing the majority of the blast. This act saved the lives of the other Marines in the room, leaving them with only minor shrapnel damage.

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LCpl Kaemmerer, the combat photographer in the room described what he saw in his statement, shortly after the incident.“I saw four Marines firing from the adjoining room when a yellow, foreign-made, oval-shaped grenade bounced into the room, rolling to a stop close to Peralta’s nearly lifeless body,” he said. “In an act living up to the heroes of the Marine Corps’ past, Peralta – in his last fleeting moments of consciousness – reached out and pulled the grenade into his body. “I watched in fear and horror as the other four Marines scrambled to the corners of the room and the majority of the blast was absorbed by Peralta’s now lifeless body. His selflessness left four other Marines with only minor injuries from smaller fragments of the grenade.” - Sgt. Priscilla Sneden, Marines Blog That fateful day sparked a debate as to whether or not Sgt Peralta rates the Medal of Honor which is the highest honor a US combatant can receive. It was clear to most of the Marines present that his actions did, in fact, save their lives. Over the next year, Secretary of Defense Gates’s forensics team pored over the data that they were afforded, and came to the conclusion that Peralta never actually intended to pull the grenade into his body, and that it simply landed near him and detonated close enough to his body to absorb most of the blast. And, if he had actually pulled the grenade to him, it wasn’t much of a cognitive action. The majority of his platoon tended to disagree with their assessment. Not to mention the fact that a forensics team was even trying to disprove the heroic action of this Marine was absolutely unprecedented. No team of analysts has ever banded together to disprove a Medal of Honor case like this before.

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“We’ve never put people under a microscope like this before. They’ve got the eyewitness statements of the Marines. It makes absolutely no sense to me,” Sterner told Stars and Stripes. “If I was a Marine, I would be pissed to the core that an Army medical officer decided what awards a Marine gets. ... I think it’s unprecedented. I’ve never heard of that happening before.” - Jon Harper, Stars and StripesThis is where I come in to this particular story, as the combat videographer present that day.In 2007, the History channel ran a documentary piece about Rafael Peralta, called “Act of Honor: The Sgt. Peralta Story.” As the Marine combat videographer attached to his unit, I provided The History Channel with a portion of the footage from the ambush in that house. The hour long special broke down the battle of Fallujah, showing recovered footage from the Marines of 1/3, but focused mostly on the events of November 15th, 2004 during which time Peralta took his place among the many Marine Corps’ heroes.After the airing of said documentary, I remember reading a story in the Associated Press that claimed that new footage has been uncovered that could reopen the Sgt Peralta case. Knowing that I was the only combat videographer present that day, the footage they spoke of had to be mine. They stated that this footage came from the archives at The History Channel, and I vividly remembered that I only provided the History Channel with partial footage for their documentary, because the full unedited cut would have been too graphic for American television. Also, I no longer had access to that full cut, and had sent all the raw footage to the Pentagon archives, where it had apparently sat unwatched while a team of forensic specialists had already made a decision to not award a Medal of Honor to this hero Marine.I immediately wrote an email to the author of this story that claimed that there was new definitive proof that shows Sgt Peralta doing this heroic deed. This was not all the footage! I know what they had to work with, and what else there was to be reviewed. I couldn’t believe that this tape had never seen the light of day, even at that time. He quickly forwarded my message to Congressman Duncan Hunter’s (R-CA) chief of staff, Joseph Kasper, who promptly contacted me. He patched me through to a Colonel at the pentagon, and we had a three way call so I could inform them that I was who I claimed to be and where exactly they could find the tape and what was on it.


This is the part of the story where politics as usual rears its ugly head.Secretary Gates and his team of forensic analysts had already built a case. By the time Congressman Hunter had built his own case, citing new evidence and posing even more witness testimony, the decision had already been made. The new Secretary of Defense, Secretary Panetta read over the case and agreed that it was enough evidence to reopen the case. He sat down with Gates, and soon after, decided that he would side with the initial position that Peralta still didn’t rate the MOH. In that time, some decision was reached between the two of them that Panetta would not make Gates look bad by overriding his position on the matter. Something was up, and we were not happy with how things were looking. This seemed like more of a cut and dry case than ever, but the men upstairs seemed to have ulterior motives that were hijacking the entire process. What these motives were, we’ll never understand. It seemed to be more about one man not wanting to make the other one look bad, and a Marine’s place in history was at stake.Fast forward one more Defense Secretary in office. Secretary Chuck Hagel got a chance to take a crack at it as well. Even more evidence had been gathered at this point, and Congressman Hunter remained hard at work building a new case. This time, in addition to the video, the testimonials, Peralta’s helmet and rifle, new pictures had surfaced that showed the room with the fragmentation marks on the walls. After reviewing the growing evidence, Secretary Hagel decided not to open the case again. Around this time, there were reports surfacing from Marines in the platoon that Peralta may not have done what the statements said he did. Some of the Marines that weren’t even near the house at the time started to tell reporters that the story had been concocted as a way to honor his death after the fact. Cpl David Allen, who was in the room, told a reporter that he had a line of site to the grenade the whole time, and couldn’t see Peralta scoop it into his chest like everyone had initially reported. The MOH once again was to remain a Navy Cross. At this point, Peralta’s family finally agreed to accept the award in his honor, and to no longer hold out for the Medal of Honor.Even more incredible because in the very same citation awarding Peralta the Navy Cross we read the following words: The grenade came to rest near Sergeant Peralta's head. 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. -Dorian de Wind, The Huffington PostCurrently, his Navy Cross citation remains unchanged, stating that he did actually pull the grenade into his own body.

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This man was a hero to them and the Marines he knew, no matter what medal they put on his gravestone. He will forever be in our thoughts and memories as the man who gave his life for his platoon. No matter what his intentions were on paper, we’ll always remember him as the hero he was, and we’ll tell our children that he’s the reason we’re still here. To his family, we’re grateful for their sacrifice.Keep this story in mind this month, because on Oct 31, 2015, the USS Rafael Peralta will be christened on the Yard at Bath Iron Works on Washington Street in Bath, ME. The event starts at 10:00am, and is open to the public. This will be the beginning of a new legacy for the hero we all grew to love over the years. Members of Peralta’s family and the Marines of 1/3 will be there to send off this destroyer as the newest addition to our US Navy’s fleet.Sgt Peralta’s sister, Icela, says the family is feeling bittersweet as it grows closer to the date of the christening of the destroyer.“This whole thing has been hard, because it’s bringing back so many memories of when we lost him, but it’s really an honor to have him remembered in this way. Rafi may have passed, but his spirit will live on in this big, powerful ship.”Peralta’s mother, Rosa, will also be donating his Navy Cross to the ship and crew, so that “his medal will remain as the heart of this ship.” Icela added.At the very least, Sgt Rafael Peralta’s legacy will remain that of a Marine who died saving the lives of those around him, and we can live happily knowing that he will still be remembered as one of the great Marines who by his undaunted courage, intrepid fighting spirit, and unwavering devotion to duty, reflected great credit upon himself and upheld the highest traditions of the Marine Corps and the United States Naval Service.[mwi-cat-listing cat="94" ppp="4" cols="4" desc="false" type="view" btn_color="black" ]

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