The family of Sgt. Rafael Peralta reluctantly agreed to accept the Navy Cross at a ceremony at Camp Pendleton Monday.
“It clearly shows his devotion to God, country and the corps," said his brother Ricardo Peralta.
During the ceremony Ricardo read from letters written by his brother days before he was killed.
“In his letter he says, be proud of me bro. I am going to make history.”
Peralta was 25 years old when he was killed in November 2004 in Fallouja. He volunteered for a mission with other Marines to clear houses of heavily armed insurgents. Peralta was the first Marine to go into a house.
Other Marines stormed into the house where they found Peralta mortally wounded. It was unknown if he was shot by friendly fire.
“Myself and another Marine were trapped in the room where the grenade was thrown in, where he was lying on the floor, so me standing here is the testimony that he did save my life," said Marine Adam Ryan Morrisson.
Marines who were in the house said Peralta scooped up an enemy grenade and absorbed the blast in order to save the lives of fellow Marines. Since, Marine brass nominated him for the Medal of Honor.
The controversy involving Peralta's death has gained the attention of Rep. Duncan Hunter (R-Alpine), who served in Iraq and Afghanistan as a Marine officer.
"The fight to upgrade the award will continue when the time is right, and I'll be honored to lead that fight," Hunter told Los Angeles Times Friday. "But the difference between the Navy Cross and Medal of Honor doesn't change the fact that Rafael Peralta is a Marine Corps legend and hero."
Pathologists determined Peralta could not have acted voluntarily, that he was clinically dead and "any actions were the involuntary spasms of a lifeless body." Their finding has been the main point of contention.
Then-Defense Secretary Robert M. Gates wrote in his memoir that he initially approved the Medal of Honor for Peralta but rescinded his decision after a protest from the department of Defense's inspector general. Instead he awarded the Navy Cross.
The family has decided to donate the Navy Cross award to displayed on the destroyer currently under construction to be named Peralta.
“I didn’t understand that his goodbye might have been a permanent farewell. If I could go back I would tell him how proud I am of him for stepping up like that," said Ricardo Peralta.