Office of Rep. Duncan Hunter says Medal of Honor denied for fallen Marine Sgt. Rafael Peralta

Hunter says he will continue to press issue

SAN DIEGO - The secretary of defense denied a request to upgrade a fallen Marine's Navy Cross to the Medal of Honor, a San Diego congressman's office said Wednesday.

The Pentagon told Rep. Duncan Hunter it supports the decision of former Defense Secretary Robert Gates, who honored Sgt. Rafael Peralta with the Navy Cross instead of the military's highest honor.

Peralta -- who in 2004 led a fire team in a house-to-house search for insurgents in Fallujah, Iraq -- was not conscious when his body smothered a grenade, saving the lives of other Marines, Gates ruled in 2008.

"He was the first through the door and went down right away," said Nick Jones, who was right behind Peralta.

Gates had a forensic panel examine the findings, and the group determined Peralta could not have consciously pulled the grenade into his body. Peralta was posthumously awarded the Silver Star instead.

The case was reopened this year after Hunter obtained a video of the battle action and a new forensics report. The lawmaker said the new evidence proved Peralta's actions were intentional.

But defense officials found the new evidence was not sufficient to change the decision, said Joe Kasper, Hunter's spokesman.

Pentagon spokesman Lt. Cmdr. Nate Christensen said he could not discuss the case, citing Defense Department policy to not comment on Medal of Honor nominations under consideration.

Secretary of the Navy Ray Mabus told reporters during a visit to Camp Pendleton last week that he recommended Peralta be honored with the Medal of Honor.

Peralta's family was informed of Defense Secretary Leon Panetta's decision on Wednesday, Kasper said.

In a statement, the General Counsel for the Department of Defense said:  "Upon further review, the findings by Secretary Gates in 2008 are still reliable."

Hunter's office told them the congressman, a former combat Marine who served in Iraq and Afghanistan, would continue to fight to get the medal upgraded.

"I really thought this time he would get it, but it just didn't happen," said Icela Donald, Peralta's sister who said she is not giving up hope.

Peralta will receive the honor of having a ship named after him, as a new destroyer will carry his name and legacy when it comes out of the shipyard in 2015.

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