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Evidence could reopen Peralta valor case

Mar. 2, 2012 - 04:59PM   |   Last Updated: Mar. 2, 2012 - 04:59PM  |  
Sgt. Rafael Peralta, then 25, died during the Battle of Fallujah in 2004. He was posthumously awarded the Navy Cross, the Marine Corps' second-highest honor for valor.
Sgt. Rafael Peralta, then 25, died during the Battle of Fallujah in 2004. He was posthumously awarded the Navy Cross, the Marine Corps' second-highest honor for valor. (Marine Corps via AP)
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The controversial valor case of fallen Marine Sgt. Rafael Peralta should be re-examined in the wake of new forensic research, according to Rep. Duncan D. Hunter, R-Calif., who has doggedly advocated for more equitable recognition of combat valor.

Peralta">posthumously received the Navy Cross after being denied the Medal of Honor when his actions in his final moments of life were called into question.

The study by a renowned forensic pathologist was made public Thursday by Hunter, a veteran of combat in Iraq and Afghanistan. Hunter also said a graphic video clip from the scene contains additional evidence.

Hunter sent the report to Navy Secretary Ray Mabus with a letter signed by members of the San Diego congressional delegation and California's two senators, formally requesting that Peralta's case be resubmitted for the Medal of Honor based on the new evidence.

The infantryman, who was raised in San Diego, died Nov. 15, 2004, in a house-clearing mission during the U.S.-led offensive in Fallujah, Iraq.

According to several witnesses, Peralta, who was already wounded and on the ground, scooped a live grenade under his body with his arm and absorbed the blast, saving the lives of his fellow Marines.

The Marine Corps recommended Peralta for the Medal of Honor based on medical evidence, eyewitness accounts and its own investigation, but the award was downgraded to a Navy Cross after former Defense Secretary Robert Gates ordered a review of the circumstances.

His review panel concluded events could not have happened the way the Corps claimed because of the severity of the head wound. The Corps later awarded him the Navy Cross.">His family refused it.

Forensic pathologist and author Vincent Di Maio says that Peralta's head wound wouldn't have necessarily kept him from being cognizant enough to pull the grenade toward his body.

"The burden should not be on the Navy or Marine Corps to prove that Sergeant Peralta did what the evidence and witness accounts say he did," Hunter said in a statement released Thursday.

Hunter also said there is "previously unavailable video content" that shows Marines attending to Peralta immediately after the grenade detonated.

The video is in the hands of Peralta family attorney George Sagba. In an email sent Friday, Hunter one of only a few people who have seen the video clip, part of a History Channel documentary on Peralta says Peralta is seen being pulled out of a doorway, face-down; his trousers are intact, there is no blood on the back or left side of his left leg, and no injury to the leg is evident; the Gates panel's report states the grenade detonated near his Peralta's knee.

The video, Hunter said, also shows what appears to be significant blood-loss in his upper body area.

"Between the video and latest pathologist report, there's more evidence that Sgt. Peralta did exactly what seven witnesses say he did," Hunter said.

Wednesday's letter to Mabus follows the Defense Department's recent announcement that a">new Navy destroyer will bear Peralta's name.

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