For nearly a decade the debate continued over whether Sgt. Rafael Peralta deserved the Medal of Honor for combat bravery.
Conflicting physical and medical evidence were at the center of the dispute involving the Marine from San Diego, who was killed in Fallouja, Iraq, in November 2004.
One thing, however, remained constant: Marines who were with Peralta that violent day have insisted, repeatedly and emotionally, that he saved their lives by smothering an enemy grenade.
But now, the day after Defense Secretary
In a story published Saturday, the
"Two former Marines who were with Peralta in the house when he was shot said the story was concocted spontaneously" in the minutes after the firefight, possibly out of remorse that Peralta had been killed by friendly fire as Marines burst into a house to clear away barricaded insurgents, according to the Post story.
Two other Marines, Nicholas Jones and Robert Reynolds, told the newspaper that the story was true and that they had seen Peralta smother the grenade as he lay mortally wounded.
On Saturday, an email from another Marine, Steve Sebby, was given to The Times in which he hotly disputed the idea that Marines concocted a false statement.
"I can say with absolute certainty that no one in that platoon was forced to write anything...We were all still adrenaline filled. There would have been no time to organize a false testimony amongst so many Marines. The injured Marines even wrote statements long after the rest of the platoon having no contact with us in between."
Peralta, he said, "did save the lives of the Marines around him."
On Friday, Hagel said that after an exhaustive review, including an examination from
"The 'proof beyond a reasonable doubt' standard, although high, is necessary to preserve the prestige and integrity of the" Medal of Honor, Hagel wrote to Rep. Duncan Hunter (R-Alpine), a Marine who served in Iraq and Afghanistan. Hunter had petitioned Hagel to award the Medal of Honor to Peralta based on new information about the condition of Peralta's rifle and body armor after the grenade blast.
But Hagel, a combat veteran of Vietnam, did not find the information sufficient to overturn the decision of Leon Panetta and
There is no indication that Hagel was aware of the Washington Post story as it was being reported and written about the assertions of Allen and Brown that they felt honor-bound to no longer lie about what happened during the firefight.
Peralta, who was 25 when he died, is buried at Fort Rosecrans National Cemetery in San Diego. An immigrant from Mexico, he enlisted on the day he received his green card. He wrote letters to his younger brother Ricardo, urging him to have pride in their adopted country. Ricardo later enlisted in the Marine Corps and deployed to Afghanistan.
Peralta's mother, Rosa, lives in Chula Vista, in a home purchased with her son's military death benefit.