DOD denies Medal of Honor to fallen Marine again

WASHINGTON — After reviewing new evidence, the Department of Defense has reaffirmed its decision not to award the Medal of Honor to a San Diego Marine killed during a firefight in Iraq.

The decision by Defense Secretary Leon E. Panetta means the Navy Cross awarded to Sgt. Rafael Peralta for heroism during the 2004 battle in Fallouja, Iraq, will not be upgraded to the nation’s highest award for combat courage.

Rep. Duncan Hunter Jr. submitted new evidence from witnesses that the already wounded Peralta deliberately pulled a grenade under his body and absorbed the explosion to protect his comrades from the blast.

After several months of reviewing the evidence, a Defense Department official informed Hunter Tuesday that Peralta’s medal will not be upgraded, Hunter’s office said Wednesday. The official said that the reviewers questioned the eyewitness accounts and stood by the review of the case conducted by Secretary of Defense Robert Gates that led to the original decision not to give Peralta the Medal of Honor.

The Gates investigation concluded that Peralta was unconscious when the grenade went off at least a foot away from his left leg.

The Marine Corps and Navy Secretary Ray Mabus have consistently requested that Peralta be awarded the Medal of Honor.

Hunter’s office called the decision “disappointing” and said that the congressman remains committed to seeing that Peralta is awarded the highest medal for military valor. The congressman was reserving comment on the Defense Department decision until he receives a detailed explanation from department officials in the coming days, a spokesman said.