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 Navy Department will reopen the valor case of Marine Corps Sgt. Rafael Peralta based on new evidence that reportedly removes any doubt about the infantryman's actions during his waning moments of life seven years ago in Iraq.
The new evidence — two previously unseen videos and a recent study by a renowned forensic pathologist — was brought to the attention of the Navy Secretary Ray Mabus by Rep. Duncan Hunter, R-Calif., a former Marine officer and combat veteran who has lobbied for Peralta to receive the Medal of Honor, the nation's highest combat valor award.
Mabus wrote to Hunter on March 16, saying the evidence provided by the congressman will be reviewed by the Navy Department Board of Decorations and Medals. A spokeswoman for Mabus said the process would take "a matter of weeks."
In his letter, Mabus writes that he shares Hunter's commitment to ensuring Peralta, a Navy Cross recipient, receives the recognition he is due, and offers his assurance that the case "will be given thorough consideration by the Department of the Navy."
When he died Nov. 15, 2004, Peralta was a member of 1st Battalion, 3rd Marines, out of Marine Corps Base Hawaii. He was killed during a house-clearing mission in Fallujah. Witnesses say that Peralta, who was already wounded by a gunshot wound to the head, pulled a live grenade under his body and absorbed the blast, saving the lives of fellow Marines.
The Marine Corps recommended that Peralta receive the Medal of Honor, but his actions were called into question by a separate review panel convened by former Defense Secretary Robert Gates. That board ultimately disapproved the Medal of Honor. The Navy Department then awarded him a Navy Cross, the nation's second-highest combat valor award, but his family has refused to accept it.
The Gates panel concluded that in his condition Peralta could not have possessed the cognitive faculties to knowingly pull the grenade toward him, and further asserted that the device exploded near Peralta's leg.
But the new study, by forensic pathologist Vincent Di Maio, concluded the head wound would not have precluded Peralta from pulling the grenade toward his body. Further, the videos, which Hunter described as "graphic and compelling," reportedly show Marines attending to Peralta immediately after the grenade detonated. His trousers are intact, there is no blood on the back or left side of his leg, contradicting the Gates report, Hunter has said.
"This is video evidence that's been languishing around in storage boxes, that's the new evidence, which is remarkable that it took my office to dig this up," Hunter told Marine Corps Times on March 20. "Hopefully that's what they need to go forward with this. But this is about Peralta."