He was a sergeant in Company A, 1st Battalion, 3rd Marine Regiment for Operation Dawn, the November offensive to retake the Iraqi city of Fallujah, which had become a haven for terrorists. What he did on the day of Nov. 15 was an awe-inspiring act of selfless sacrifice and faithfulness to his fellow Marines.
The only way we can honor Sgt. Peralta's heroism is to tell his story and remember his name. What follows is mostly drawn from the reporting of Marine combat correspondent Lance Cpl. T.J. Kaemmerer, who witnessed the events on that day.
Sgt. Peralta, 25, was a Mexican American. He joined the Marines the day after he received his green card and earned his citizenship while in uniform. He was fiercely loyal to the ethos of the Corps.
On the morning of November 15th 2004, the Marines entered a house and kicked in the doors of two rooms that proved empty. But there was another closed door to an adjoining room. It was unlocked, and Peralta, in the lead, opened it. He was immediately hit with AK-47 fire in his face and upper torso by three insurgents. He fell out of the way into one of the cleared rooms to give his fellow Marines a clear shot at the enemy. During the firefight, a yellow fragmentation grenade flew out of the room, landing near Peralta and several fellow Marines. The uninjured Marines tried to scatter out of the way, two of them trying to escape the room, but were blocked by a locked door. At that point, barely alive, Peralta grabbed the grenade and cradled it to his body.
His body took most of the blast. One Marine was seriously injured, but the rest sustained only minor shrapnel wounds. Cpl. Brannon Dyer told a reporter from the Army Times, "He saved half my fire team."
Kaemmerer compares Peralta's sacrifice to that of past Marine Medal of Honor winners Pfc. James LaBelle and Lance Cpl. Richard Anderson. LaBelle dove on a Japanese grenade to save two fellow Marines during the battle of Iwo Jima. Although he had just been wounded twice, Anderson rolled over an enemy grenade to save a fellow Marine during a 1969 battle in Vietnam.
Peralta's sacrifice should be a legend in the making. But somehow heroism doesn't get the same traction in our media environment.
Don't forget what Sgt Peralta did for his fellow Marines that day, what he did for all of us.
Sadly after much debate, the military failed to award the highest honor a fallen soldier can be given. He was not awarded the Metal of Honor, he was given the Navy Cross. His family has been terribly sadden and shaken by the course of events in his legacy not being given the correct honor it so deserved.
But today if just one more person knows the name Sgt Rafael Peralta and remembers the brave and noble man then I think we have gone a long way to establish him as being honored in a far more important way.
Now that I know you Sgt Peralta, I will never forget.