A California congressman who blasted the Navy this week for naming a new cargo ship after labor activist Cesar Chavez is now preparing to file legislation that will direct the Navy to name the next available ship after a military war hero.
Republican Rep. Duncan Hunter, who fought in Iraq and Afghanistan, wants the next ship to be named after Marine Corps. Sgt. Rafael Peralta, who died in 2004 and was nominated for the Medal of Honor for his bravery in Iraq.
Peralta was posthumously offered the Navy Cross, the second highest honor, but his family declined to accept it.
"Sgt. Peralta gave his life for this country," Hunter said in a statement Friday, adding that Peralta should have been awarded the Medal of Honor.
"It's a shame that the secretary of Defense refuses to re-examine the case, so it's only right that the Navy name its next ship after Sgt. Peralta," he said. "It's an honor that Sgt. Peralta deserves."
Icela Donald, Peralta's sister, said in a statement on behalf of her family, "We are truly thankful and honored. This is a way to keep my brother's legacy alive. After everything we've been through, this means so much to the entire family."
Peralta was 25 when he died in a battle in Fallujah, Iraq. After he was shot in the head by friendly fire, he pulled a grenade lobbed by an insurgent under his body before it detonated, saving the lives of several of his fellow comrades.
Hunter mentioned Peralta as someone who deserved his name on a cargo ship more than Chavez, a Navy veteran who served for two years starting at the age of 17. Chavez rose to fame for helping to secure a U.S. law that recognized farmworkers' rights to organize unions and engage in collective bargaining. He died in 1993 at the age of 66.
Hunter called the Navy's decision to honor Chavez "political."
"Naming a ship after Cesar Chavez goes right along with other recent decisions by the Navy that appear to be more about making a political statement than upholding the Navy's history and tradition," he said.
Chavez this week became the first Mexican American to have one of the last 14 Lewis and Clark-class cargo ships built by NASSCO for the Navy named after him. Other ships have been named after explorers Meriwether Lewis and William Clark, civil rights activist Medgar Evers and pioneering aviator Amelia Earhart.