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Hagel refuses to reopen Medal of Honor bid for Sgt. Rafael Peralta

Chuck HagelHuman InterestLeon PanettaU.S. Department of DefenseRobert Gates

SAN DIEGO -- The secretary of defense announced Friday that he would not reconsider the Medal of Honor nomination of a Marine from San Diego who was killed in Iraq.

Secretary Chuck Hagel agreed with his two predecessors that the nomination of Sgt. Rafael Peralta does not meet the "proof beyond a reasonable doubt" standard required for the nation's highest award for combat bravery.

Peralta, an immigrant from Mexico who enlisted the day he received his green card, was killed in November 2004 while Marines were clearing houses in Fallouja of barricaded insurgents. Peralta, who had volunteered for the mission, had taken the lead in assaulting the house.

Marines who were with Peralta insisted that, despite being wounded, he smothered an enemy grenade, saving the lives of Marines.

But a blue-ribbon panel reviewing the Marine Corps' nomination of Peralta for the Medal of Honor sided with medical evidence that suggested that Peralta was already dead from a wound to the head and that any actions were involuntary.

Peralta was awarded the Navy Cross instead of the Medal of Honor.

Rep. Duncan Hunter (R-Alpine), a Marine veteran from Iraq and Afghanistan, had requested Hagel to reopen the Peralta nomination.

Hunter felt that new evidence involving pictures of the damage done to Peralta's body armor and rifle proved that the grenade exploded beneath or extremely close to Peralta's body - not several feet away as the medical analysts have asserted.

But Hagel was unpersuaded and said that he agrees with the decision of his predecessors - Leon Panetta and Robert Gates - that "the evidence does not support" the Medal of Honor.

Still, Hagel, a combat veteran of Vietnam, said that he and the Department of Defense "remain grateful to Sgt. Peralta for his selfless service to our nation."

Peralta is buried at Fort Rosecrans National Cemetery in San Diego. His brother, Ricardo, enlisted in the Marine Corps in 2010 to keep a promise he made at his brother's funeral. He later deployed to Afghanistan.

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Twitter: @LATsandiego

tony.perry@latimes.com

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