SAN DIEGO (AP) — Federal lawmakers announced Thursday they have obtained evidence previously unavailable to military investigators that proves the Navy should not have disqualified a San Diego Marine from being posthumously awarded America's highest military honor.
U.S. Rep. Duncan Hunter sent a formal request from the area's congressional delegation to Navy Secretary Ray Mabus urging him to reconsider Sgt. Rafael Peralta for the Medal of Honor in a last-ditch effort before the deadline ends. Four other San Diego-area representatives and California Sens. Dianne Feinstein and Barbara Boxer also signed the letter.
After a scientific panel examined the forensic evidence at the time, former Defense Secretary Robert Gates decided to award Peralta the Navy Cross instead of the Medal of Honor based on the conclusion that the Marine who suffered a head wound was not conscious when he pulled a grenade to his body in Iraq in 2004, saving other Marines.
The new evidence shows Peralta intentionally used his body to smother the explosive and reaffirms "just how wrong Secretary Gates and his panel were in reaching their decision," Hunter said.
That action deserves the highest award, he said.
The Defense Department's initial conclusion contradicts the Marine Corps' report and verified medical evidence and the accounts of seven witnesses who saw Peralta pull the grenade to himself, Hunter said.
"The burden should not be on the Navy or Marine Corps to prove that Sgt. Peralta did what the evidence and witness accounts say he did," said Hunter, a Marine combat vet of the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. "The responsibility for correcting this mistake rests with the Secretary of Defense, who is in the position to ensure Sgt. Peralta receives the recognition he should have received years ago."
The delegation included with its letter a report by forensic pathologist Dr. Vincent Di Maio who said: "Taking into account the circumstances surrounding the incident: the statements of the witnesses; the condition of the body armor; the autopsy findings; the opinion of the neurosurgeons and neurologist and my own experience with head wounds, it is my opinion that, in all medical probability, Sgt. Peralta was not immediately incapacitated by the brain injury, and in fact reached for the grenade and pulled it under his body."
The Navy did not immediately respond to requests for comment.