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First Name: Rafael

Last Name: Peralta

Birthplace: Mexico City, MEX

Gender: Male

Branch: Marines (present)

Date of Birth: 07 April 1979

Date of Death: 15 November 2004

Rank: Sergeant

Years Served: 2000 - 2004
Rafael Peralta

•  Iraq War (Operation Iraqi Freedom) (2003 - 2011)


Rafael Peralta
Sergeant, U.S. Marine Corps

Rafael Peralta was born on 7 April 1979 in Mexico City, Mexico, the oldest child of Rafael and Rosa Peralta.

He and his family entered the United States illegally to allow Rafael to attend school in San Diego, CA, in order to avoid the gang violence in Tijuana. At that time, Rafael spoke no English. He graduated from Morse High School in San Diego in 1997 and, inspired to become a U.S. Marine, Rafael wanted to enlist in the Marine Corps immediately after graduation. However, he had to wait until he became a lawful permanent resident. He enlisted the same day in 2000 that he received his "Green Card." Rafael's father was killed in a freak workplace accident in 2001, leaving him as the head of household.

Rafael earned his U.S. citizenship while serving on active duty in the Marine Corps. A true patriot, Rafael's bedroom wall bore only three neatly-framed paper documents: The U.S. Constitution, the Bill of Rights, and his Marine Corps 'boot camp' graduation certificate. Before he set out for Fallujah, Rafael wrote to his 14-year-old brother, 'Be proud of me, bro ...and be proud of being an American.'"

On 15 November 2004, Sergeant Rafael Peralta was serving as a Scout Team Leader with 1st Platoon, Company A, First Battalion, 3rd Marines, Regimental Combat Team 7, 1st Marine Division. His unit was in Iraq in support of Operation Iraqi Freedom and was assigned that day to clear houses in Fallujah as part of Operation Phantom Fury. Although Peralta was not assigned to enter the buildings, he did so.

Peralta led his team through three house-clearings before charging into the fourth house. After finding two rooms empty on the ground floor, he opened a third door and was hit multiple times with AK-47 fire, leaving him severely wounded. Peralta fell to the floor, moving aside to enable the Marines behind him to return fire. The insurgents threw a hand grenade at the Marines, and the two Marines with Peralta tried to get out of the room but could not. Still conscious on the floor, despite his wounds Peralta reportedly pulled the grenade under his body (absorbing most of the blast and shrapnel). He died instantly, but saved the lives of his fellow Marines. [For details and circumstances regarding his death, see the Navy Cross Citation below.]

Events Concerning a Posthumous Award for Valor

First Marine Division Commander LtGen Richard Natonksi recommended Sgt Rafael Peralta for the Medal of Honor, based on reports by seven Marines present (or nearby) when he died. In December 2004, Congressman Bob Filner of California introduced legislation awarding Sgt Peralta the Medal of Honor.

On 17 September 2008, LtGen Natonski notified Peralta's family that he would receive the Navy Cross instead of the Medal of Honor. Secretary of Defense Robert Gates rejected the Marine Corps recommendation, saying that his panel unanimously confirmed that Peralta's actions did not meet the Medal of Honor standard "without any possibility of error or doubt." Gates' central argument related to whether the already-mortally-wounded Peralta could have intentionally reached for the grenade, shielding his fellow Marines from the blast. During a Marine Corps investigation of the attack LtGen Natonski had said, "I believe beyond a shadow of a doubt" that the gravely-wounded Peralta covered the grenade. Doubt arose when some believed that Peralta was clinically dead when the grenade was thrown. The Navy’s years-long effort to award Peralta the Medal of Honor was stymied by military physicians who had studied the case and determined that the forensic evidence made the grenade-thwarting accounts implausible. That finding infuriated many Marines over the years.

After it was announced that Peralta would receive the Navy Cross instead, a number of people requested reconsideration, with the congressional delegations from California and Hawaii and the Congressional Hispanic Caucus requesting a presidential review of Gates' decision. Lawmakers continued their efforts; of seven nominations for the Medal of Honor reaching the Secretary of Defense, Peralta's was the only one not approved.

In March 2012, the Marine Corps Times reported that Navy officials were reviewing new evidence related to Peralta's case, including two videos (one by Marine combat photographer Steve Sebby) and a pathology report. The evidence was provided by California Representative Duncan D. Hunter, who served with 1st Battalion, 11th Marines during Operation Vigilant Resolve (the first battle for Fallujah). In December 2012, the Department of Defense announced that the Navy Cross would not be upgraded, with Secretary of Defense Leon Panetta saying that he did not want to overturn his predecessor's decision. Hunter said he would appeal, introducing a resolution co-sponsored by fellow California Representative Xavier Becerra which recommended that Peralta receive the Medal of Honor. When Chuck Hagel replaced Panetta as Secretary of Defense, Hunter hoped he would be more receptive to the new evidence. However, in February 2014, Hagel announced that Peralta's Medal of Honor nomination would not be reconsidered.

On 8 June 2015, Secretary of the Navy Ray Mabus awarded Sergeant Rafael Peralta's Navy Cross to his mother, Rosa Peralta, at Camp Pendleton, CA.

Medals and Awards

Navy Cross
Purple Heart
Combat Action Ribbon
Marine Corps Good Conduct Medal
National Defense Service Medal
Iraq Campaign Medal with Bronze Star
Global War on Terrorism Service Medal
Sea Service Deployment Ribbon

Navy Cross Citation

The President of the United States of America takes pride in presenting the Navy Cross (Posthumously) to Sergeant Rafael Peralta, United States Marine Corps, for extraordinary heroism while serving as Platoon Guide with 1st Platoon, Company A, First Battalion, Third Marines, Regimental Combat Team 7, FIRST Marine Division, in action against Anti-Coalition Forces in support of Operation AL FAJAR, in Fallujah, Iraq, on 15 November 2004. Clearing scores of houses in the previous three days, Sergeant Peralta asked to join an under-strength squad and volunteered to stand post the night of 14 November, allowing fellow Marines more time to rest. The following morning, during search and attack operations, while clearing the seventh house of the day, the point man opened a door to a back room and immediately came under intense, close-range automatic weapons fire from multiple insurgents. The squad returned fire, wounding one insurgent. While attempting to maneuver out of the line of fire, Sergeant Peralta was shot and fell mortally wounded. After the initial exchange of gunfire, the insurgents broke contact, throwing a fragmentation grenade as they fled the building. The grenade came to rest near Sergeant Peralta's head. Without hesitation and with complete disregard for his own personal safety, Sergeant Peralta reached out and pulled the grenade to his body, absorbing the brunt of the blast and shielding fellow Marines only feet away. Sergeant Peralta succumbed to his wounds. By his undaunted courage, intrepid fighting spirit, and unwavering devotion to duty, Sergeant Peralta reflected great credit upon himself and upheld the highest traditions of the Marine Corps and the United States Naval Service.


On 24 April 2006, San Diego Police Department Chief of Police William Lansdowne posthumously awarded Sgt Rafael Peralta the honorary title of San Diego police officer for his heroism in Iraq. Peralta had long wanted to be a San Diego police officer, and the honorary badge was presented to his mother.

The 31st Marine Expeditionary Unit (MEU) command-post building 2533 at Camp Hansen, Okinawa, was renamed Peralta Hall in his honor on 21 September 2007. The History Channel (THC) produced a one-hour documentary in Spanish and English about Peralta, Act of Honor, which appeared on THC Classroom.

Following legislative action by Congressman Duncan D. Hunter (CA), Secretary of the Navy Ray Mabus announced on 16 February 2012 that one of several new Arleigh Burke-class guided-missile destroyers would be named the U.S.S. Rafael Peralta (DDG-115). According to Peralta's mother, the destroyer will carry his Navy Cross. At Quantico, VA, Peralta's rifle and the last letter he wrote will be placed on display.

[See photo of christening of the USS Rafael Peralta (DDG-115) on 31 October 2015 in the Photo section.]


With Rafael Peralta's death benefit, his mother purchased a home in Chula Vista, CA. Inspired by his older brother's actions, Rafael's brother Ricardo also enlisted in the U.S. Marine Corps and graduated from the School of Infantry in 2010. He was honorably discharged in January 2014, after serving in Afghanistan (Operation Enduring Freedom).

Honoree ID: 4847   Created by: MHOH




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