The family of an fallen Iraqi war hero who'd been fighting for years to have him awarded a Medal of Honor accepted instead a Navy Cross, the nation's second-highest award.
The family of Sgt. Rafael Peralta, a Marine killed in Iraq, had pleaded with the Pentagon for years to approve the Marine Corps' nomination for the Medal of Honor, the nation's highest award for military heroism. The family had even enlisted the help of U.S. Representatives Duncan Hunter (R-CA) and Xavier Becerra (D-CA), Senators Dianne Feinstein (D-CA) and Marco Rubio (R-FL), now presidential contender -- to no avail.
Peralta's younger brother, Ricardo, has said his mother has grown tired by the fight, though she still believes her late son deserves to be honored with the nation's highest award for covering a grenade on Nov. 15, 2004, in Fallujah, shielding his troops from the blast.
"She's growing older. She can only take so much. It took a toll," Ricardo Peralta told the San Diego Union Tribune.
The Defense Department has ruled that Peralta was not conscious when he smothered the grenade with his body.
California Republican Rep. Duncan Hunter, a Marine veteran who served in Iraq, led the fight in Congress for Peralta's actions to be recognized with the Medal of Honor.
"In my mind, Peralta should be a Medal of Honor recipient, but the Navy Cross is also a major valor award, and even though the fight to upgrade the award is sure to continue when the time is right, it's great to see the Peralta family finally accepting the award," Hunter said. "The distinction between the awards doesn't change the fact that there are Marines alive today who say, without condition, that Rafael Peralta saved their lives."
The Marine Corps nominated Peralta for the Medal of Honor posthumously, and it was approved by the Navy Department.
Then-Defense Secretary Robert Gates in 2008 said the evidence was inconclusive and awarded him the Navy Cross. The Navy and members of Congress asked the Pentagon to reconsider after new evidence surfaced, but the next two defense secretaries said it still did not meet the standard of proof required for a Medal of Honor.
Secretary of the Navy Ray Mabus, who had recommended in 2012 the Medal of Honor be awarded to Peralta, will present the Navy Cross to the family.
The award's citation reads: "While attempting to maneuver out of the line of fire, Sgt. 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 Sgt. Peralta's head. Without hesitation and with complete disregard for his own personal safety, Sgt. Peralta reached out and pulled the grenade to his body, absorbing the brunt of the blast and shielding fellow Marines only feet away."
Based on reporting by The Associated Press.