Supporters have criticized the department for denying Marine
Sergeant Rafael Peralta's nomination for the Medal of Honor for his
actions in Fallujah in 2004, when pulled a grenade under his body to
shield his comrades from the explosion, even as he was already dying
of a fatal head wound.
The five members of his squad were eyewitnesses to Peralta's actions
and nominated him for the honor, but some medical experts have
raised doubts as to whether he could have consciously moved the
grenade under his body given the damage caused by the bullet wound.
"After extensively familiarizing himself with the history of
Sergeant Peralta's nomination, Secretary Hagel determined the
totality of the evidence does not meet the 'proof beyond a
reasonable doubt' Medal of Honor award standard," the Pentagon said
in a statement.
Peralta's case has become a cause celebre among Marines and others.
While Defense Secretary Robert Gates initially denied the Medal of
Honor nomination, he approved Peralta for the Navy Cross, the
second-highest military award for valor for members of the Navy and
Supporters and lawmakers have continued to lobby for reconsideration
of Peralta's case. Gates' successor, Leon Panetta, reviewed the case
and decided against reopening it. Hagel became the third defense
chief to examine the case, acting at the request of California
Although denied the Medal of Honor, Peralta has become a symbol of
heroism among Marines and was further honored just last year by the
Navy, which named its 65th Arleigh Burke-class destroyer after him.
A native of Mexico, Peralta immigrated illegally to the United
States and graduated from high school in California. He joined the
Marine Corps as soon as he received his legal residency card and
later became a U.S. citizen.
Hagel's decision in the Peralta case coincided with a White House
announcement that President Barack Obama will award the Medal of
Honor to 24 Army veterans from Vietnam, Korea and World War II,
most of them Jews or Hispanics who may have been previously denied
the award due to prejudice.
Obama will award the medals during a White House ceremony on March
[to top of second column]
The announcement follows a 12-year review initiated by Congress in
2002. Lawmakers directed a review of service records from previous
wars to ensure that Jewish or Hispanic soldiers were not awarded
lesser medals due to prejudice.
During the course of the review, several soldiers who were not
Jewish or Hispanic were found to meet the criteria for the medal and
the law was amended to allow them to receive the honor as well.
Only three of the soldiers, all Vietnam veterans, are still living.
The rest will receive the award posthumously.
This is not the first review to ensure prejudice was not a factor in
the awarding the medal. An Army review in the 1990s looked at
records from the Second World War and concluded that while no
African Americans had received the Medal of Honor, seven should have
President Bill Clinton presented the awards in 1997.
A similar review of the records of Asian and Pacific Islander
veterans from World War Two resulted in 22 Medals of Honor, which
Clinton presented in 2000.
(Reporting by David Alexander; editing by G Crosse)
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