Battle Rattle

Eyewitnesses respond to claims challenging Peralta’s Medal of Honor account

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Explosive new claims that challenge the truth of the accounts that made fallen Marine Sgt. Rafael Peralta a candidate for the military’s highest honor are sending shock waves through the Marine Corps community, and some eyewitnesses are firing back.

The new accounts surfaced in a Washington Post report by Ernesto Londono, published as Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel announced Friday he would not be giving Peralta, who was killed during a house-clearing mission in Fallujah, Iraq, in 2004, a third look for the Medal of Honor. In the report, two Marines who were with Peralta on his final mission say he did not sweep a live grenade under him, and that reports alleging that he did may have been intentionally fabricated after the fact.

Peralta

One of the Marines in the house, Davi Allen, tells the Post he had his eyes on the grenade as it detonated, and saw it explode near, but not under, Peralta. Another, Reggie Brown, alleged that squad members had suggested in the wake of the blast that saying Peralta had jumped on the grenade, even thought he hadn’t, would be a good way to honor him.

“I can remember people saying it would be the right thing to do, to say that he did more than he did,” Brown told the Post.  “I disagree with everything my fellow Marines proclaim to have seen.”

The suggestion that accounts of Peralta’s heroism may have been fabricated first surfaced in the initial command investigation in 2005, when Cpl. Tony Gonzales said he believed a sergeant had “pressured some of the Marines to say that Sgt. Peralta jumped on the grenade.”

But the colonel assigned to investigate the incident found no evidence to support that allegation.

That report, reviewed by the Marine Corps Times, found that Peralta had likely been shot by friendly fire and that his death was a result of a bullet fragment to the head as well as wounds from a grenade blast. 

“The statements of the Marines involved in the firefight on November 15,2004 contained in References (c) and (d) are truthful. Specifically, the Marines involved in the firefight gave an honest account of their perception of Sgt. Peralta’s actions,” the colonel wrote in his report. “They were not pressured to exaggerate his valor in the hope that Sgt. Peralta would ultimately be awarded the Medal of Honor.”

The new allegations are shocking and sobering, and deserve to be weighed carefully. But they do have their detractors.

One Marine who was in the room where Peralta died said he was appalled at the new accounts raised in the Post report.

“I was within arms’ reach of Peralta when Peralta put the grenade under his body,” said Robert Reynolds of Ritzville, Wash., then a lance corporal who was wounded in the arm during the fire fight. “If he hadn’t done that, I would have been dead. Facts don’t lie.”

Diagrams illustrating the positions of each member of the house-clearing group show that Gonzales was outside of the house at the time of Peralta’s death. Brown ran out of the house when the grenade was thrown. But Allen was in the house at the time, and Reynolds said he had no explanation for his shocking new account. But, Reynolds said, he knew that no one had interfered with his testimony of events.

“ I was in the field hospital when a major came to me, we asked to talk,” he said. “I sat down and talked to him and then he asked if I would be willing to write a statement about what I just said. I wrote down about what we had talked about. That was the end of it. I never talked to anyone from my unit about the whole case.”

Reynolds says he lives with the physical evidence of Peralta’s heroism every day.

“Knowing that the grenades have a five-meter killing radius, I would have been dead,” he said. “I would be dead. I have no shrapnel wounds from that grenade at all.”

Another account of events that does not appear in the Post report is that of Steve Sebby, a combat cameraman who was also on the house-clearing mission. Although Sebby did not have a line of sight on Peralta when the grenade was thrown, his footage of Peralta’s body being carried out of the house would become evidence in Peralta’s medal package. In a Feb. 20 email reviewed by Marine Corps Times, Sebby said he could say with “absolute certainty” that no one in the platoon was forced to write anything about the events surrounding Peralta’s death; they were instructed to “write what you saw.”

“We were still adrenaline filled,” he wrote. “There would have been no time to organize a false testimony amongst that many Marines.”

The fog of war element is also integral to the telling of this story. As Londono notes, a report by combat correspondent Travis  Kaemmerer contains details about Peralta being shot in the face by insurgents at “point blank range” that the ballistic evidence and later command investigation did not bear out. In his email, Sebby also described the confusion and chaos that surrounded Peralta’s last moments.

“That scene is a lot of yelling between the Marines who weren’t in the room, trying to get a handle on the situation, and Marines who were in the room, yelling back: “I don’t know man!  I saw shots fired, this guy went down.  Grenade!  He’s Dead!  Don’t say that! What the F***!!!?” he wrote.

At the end of the day, the new claims raise questions that can’t be ignored, but give few definitive answers. Frustratingly, with Hagel’s decision, exactly what happened in that house-clearing mission may never be authoritatively confirmed.

Comments

  1. Dennis M. Says:
    February 22nd, 2014 at 2:37 pm

    If it was some doggie, who was doing what marines do, all the time he would have gotten the MOH long ago. Plus you have to give some of this responsibility to the Marine Corps brass. They have no problem handing out medals to officers who just showed up and did their jobs. But when it comes to enlisted men its another story.

  2. Cpl Payne Says:
    February 22nd, 2014 at 5:02 pm

    I’m a veteran of 1st battalion 3rd marines lava dogs! I wasn’t there when this happened I have been told the story and believe the friends that told me of Sgt. Peralta’s heroic act. I find it bs he received the navy cross and not the Medal of Honor!

    I have even published a song in his memory!

    Lyrics
    Some Gave More
    By Joshua W. Payne

    I’ve shed blood for this nation
    A few tears now and then
    I’ve seen a lot of places
    And served with a few good men
    I did my time in battle
    And seen my share of war
    I know I gave a lot
    Oh but some gave even more

    Like Sgt Peralta
    Who paid the ultimate price
    Jumped on a grenade
    To save my buddies lives

    I remember his memorial
    Riffle in the ground
    His boots out in front
    And his dog tags draping down
    His Kevlar on top
    His chin strap unbuttoned
    I thought I gave a lot
    But really I gave nothing

    They awarded him a Purple Heart
    And a Navy Cross
    Just a small token from America
    For the life that was lost

    So while you’re out tonight
    Raise your drinks to the sky
    And say thanks to the fallen
    The ones who gave their lives.

    I shed blood for this nation
    A few tears now and then
    Seen a lot of places
    Served with a few good men
    I’ve done my time in battle
    And seen my share of war
    I know I gave a lot
    Oh but some gave even more!

  3. sam .l Says:
    February 23rd, 2014 at 10:19 pm

    So, D. Allen changed his story?
    Read it……
    http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/articles/A8612-2004Nov23.html

  4. Brad Says:
    February 24th, 2014 at 1:12 pm

    He wasn’t awarded the MOH because it was determined that he couldn’t have consciously pulled a grenade under him after being mortally wounded from a gunshot to the head PERIOD. If this is the case, then why was he awarded the Navy Cross after medical examiner testimony said “he couldn’t have consciously pulled a grenade under him after being mortally wounded “. The Navy Cross citation says that he did in fact consciously grab the grenade and pull it under himself. So which account is correct? He should get the MOH or nothing at all.

  5. Luis Says:
    February 25th, 2014 at 11:35 pm

    Agree 100% with Brad.

  6. EdUSMC0311 Says:
    February 26th, 2014 at 11:53 am

    It doesn’t matter. If there is any issue with the evidence (doubt), the lower award is given. There is a high threshold for the MOH. It sucks, but if there is any doubt the MOH should not be awarded.