By lex, on September 18th, 2008
Here’s what we know about Rafael Peralta, Sergeant of Marines, San Diego Native, lost in action Fallujah, Iraq, November 2004: That he was born in Mexico City in 1979, immigrated to this country as a teenager, decorated the wall of his bedroom with the US Constitution and the Bill of Rights, joined the Marine Corps the day he got his green card, served with the heavily engaged 1st Batallion, 3rd Marine Regiment, 3rd MARDIV, III MEF in Fallujah, volunteered for the exceptionally dangerous duty of house clearing during the assault on the insurgent-controlled city, was mortally wounded in an ambush, and clutched a grenade thrown by an insurgent to himself, taking the blast on his own body and saving the lives of several Marines alongside him. We know that his grateful camerades and inspired chain of command recommended him for our nation’s highest military award. That his example of courage and sacrifice was praised by the president in his 2005 Memorial Day speech. That a movie was made for the History Channel – in English and Spanish – telling his tale.
Today we learn, ** that Peralta – who was not a citizen of the country that he fought and died for – was wounded by friendly fire in the mad melée of that fiercely contested “hell in a small place.” We also learn that, rather than the Congressional Medal of Honor for which he was recommended – Peralta will be posthumously awarded the Navy Cross, our country’s second highest award. Apparently because there is some doubt whether his actions were entirely voluntary. This despite the fact that his Navy Cross citation reads (in part):
Without hesitation and with complete disregard for his own personal safety, Sergeant Peralta reached out end pulled the grenade to his body, absorbing the brunt of the blast and shieleding fellow Marines only feet away.
A Navy Cross is nothing to sneeze at. But Peralta either intentionally shielded his fellow Marines or he did not. If he did “jump on the grenade” as his squad mates insist, he ought to be awarded the MOH not merely because his memory deserves it, but because this sort of sacrifice is exactly the sort of thing that inspires future men to great acts of courage and even self-sacrifice – qualities whose essence has not yet gone out of favor in a service that teaches such things unironically.
Martial legend tells us that Napoleon would walk his campfires on the night before a major battle and ask the men assembled in their companies which was the bravest among them. A man was very often pointed out by general proclamation, and Napoleon would affix a bit of cloth to man’s uniform in recognition not of what he had done, but what he would do the next day. The men so recognized would invariably attempt great feats to earn the respect conferred not only by the general, but also by his company mates. Many would die in that effort, leading Napoleon to remark thoughtfully that “a soldier will fight long and hard for a bit of colored ribbon.”
Rafael Peralta came to us from a foreign land, and loved what we represent more than many who were blessed to have been born here. Enough to fight for it against a vicious foe. He was a man who volunteered repeatedly for dangerous duty, who saved the lives of several of his brothers by forfeiting his own. In ancient times such a warrior would be remembered in a song.
It seems the least that we could do would have been to give his memory a bit of light blue ribbon strewn with five white stars. If not for his own sake, then for those whose lives he saved, and those his example will save in the future.
** 08-25-2018 Original link gone; replacement found – Ed.