The simple answer is YES! But, the entire story is complicated. There are conflicting eyewitness accounts, even the medical doctors who studied the pathology cannot agree. Additionally, some politicians have made decisions based on political considerations, not the facts of the case.
Sgt Rafael Peralta’s sacrifice, an historical account
Nearly ten years ago, America’s sons, and a few of her daughters, fought the largest battle of Operation Iraqi Freedom in November and December of 2004. Just as is happening today, al Qaeda had taken control of the city of Fallujah and Islamic fundamentalists were spreading terror throughout Iraq from their safe haven inside the fortified city. After months of negotiations and stalemate, the Iraqi government, in concert with the American military, mounted Operation al Fajr to clear the city of the 2000 thugs and criminals who had taken control.
A combined force of Iraqi soldiers and American Soldiers, Sailors, Airmen, and Marines attacked the city on 8 November, sweeping north to south. Iraqi and American Soldiers, and U.S. Marines entered every room in every building, never knowing if they would find a cowering family or an incensed insurgent waiting to shoot and kill them. Heroism and courage were the norm as Soldiers and Marines kicked in door after door after door.
Four Marine Infantry Battalions and portions of an Army Infantry Battalion swept through the city with Iraqi soldiers in support. By the 15th of November, the infantrymen of 1st Battalion, 3rd Marines had been fighting with a tenacious enemy and clearing houses for a week. Sergeant Rafael Peralta led a team of 1/3 Marines into another house that afternoon and the enemy was waiting. Gunfire erupted and Peralta was hit in the cheek by a fragment of a stray, ricocheting bullet. He fell, face down, in the center of an entryway that opened into a second large room. Corporal Davi Allen ran to Peralta’s aid. He bent down to try to provide medical assistance and immediately decided that Peralta was dead. Allen had little time to check Peralta as a hand grenade bounced into the room and landed next to them both.
Allen yelled, “GRENADE,” turned, and shoved another Marine into the corner of the room. Both waited for the inevitable blast as the other Marines in the room scrambled for cover. The grenade exploded, wounding only three Marines – Allen, Jones and Morrison. Allen was peppered in the backside with 24 shards of shrapnel. When the dust settled, several Marines said that Peralta had pulled the grenade to his chest, shielding his fellow Marines from the blast before he died.
Allen recalled the incident to the Washington Post in November of 2004.
“After going through about 50 houses, Allen, 21, of Cloverdale, Ore., was looking around the small living room of a residence when he heard gunshots coming from the kitchen…He looked over and saw a grenade roll into the room. The house’s windows had bars on them, and the grenade was too close to the doorway for Allen to make a run for it. He said he had no choice but to ride it out. “I balled myself in the corner and waited,” he said. “It blew up behind me…Two Marines were injured and one was killed in the attack. Medics brought Allen to Bravo Surgical with 24 pieces of shrapnel in his backside.”
Written eyewitness accounts were collected immediately. “I can say with absolute certainty that no one in that platoon was forced to write anything. SSgt Murdoch made us all write statements immediately following the incident.” With many eyewitness statements, Peralta was put in for a Congressional Medal of Honor and a thorough investigation of the incident was started. Marines returned to the house and documented the site by taking photographs as if it were a crime scene investigation. Official interviews were conducted. Peralta’s clothes and his equipment were recovered and held for analysis. Strangely, his rifle slipped through the cracks and ended up with the Battalion Armorer. It was not recovered until it was found in a locker in Okinawa in 2013. Peralta’s body underwent a detailed forensic autopsy and a thorough report of his wounds was generated. Once the results of all the analyses were obtained, a Marine Corps board recommended that Peralta receive the Medal of Honor. The Marines’ recommendation was made only after detailed investigation and serious deliberation. The results of this detailed analysis were forwarded to the office of the Secretary of Defense for final approval.
The Marines concluded that Rafael Peralta deserved a Medal of Honor
“Representatives of explosive ordnance disposal (EOD) inspected Sergeant Peralta’s flak jacket and retrieved several shrapnel fragments as well as a piece of the grenade’s fuse…It is rare for shrapnel from a grenade of this type to penetrate metal or a flak jacket…”
“EOD’s review of the burn pattern on Sergeant Peralta’s flak jacket; combined with the fragmentation pattern documented by the battalion surgeon and the autopsy report; as well as the photographs of the spot where Sergeant Peralta was recovered, where the grenade exploded on the floor and the fragmentation pattern left on the wall inside the Big Room between D4 and D2; leave no doubt that the grenade exploded underneath Sergeant Peralta on the left side of his flak jacket.”
The investigating officer concluded his report with one short recommendation, “That Sergeant Rafael Peralta, United States Marine Corps, receive the Medal of Honor.”
Past Media Debacles
Who doesn’t remember Pat Tillman or Jessica Lynch? Pat was a National Football League star who gave up a lucrative job after 9/11 to join the United States Army. He was a handsome, physically imposing figure who became a member of the elite United States Army Rangers. Jessica Lynch was a young pretty female American soldier, captured and held for days by the enemy and then rescued by a perfectly executed operation. Both Pat’s and Jessica’s stories were heavily manipulated by the media and George Bush’s political opponents. To this day, most Americans do not know what really happened to Lynch or Tillman. Most will only remember that the Bush administration lied to the American people.
Pat Tillman’s fellow Rangers came up with a story to tell to his parents to soften their grief and give them a final memory of their son dying as a hero. The truth was that he was killed by friendly fire. A U.S. official, trying to impress a reporter, leaked a story that Jessica Lynch was a hero and that she fought to her last bullet. The military never confirmed that story, because no one knew what had happened to Jessica. Yet, every editor in the US and around the world frothed at the mouth when they read of an innocent American girl being held by the “boogieman.” And, they propagated and embellished the story.
When both of these stories were exposed as inaccurate, anti-war extremists jumped on the Bush administration and claimed that ‘Bush had lied to the American people.’ They continued this mantra for years when it was actually the media who did not properly vet the stories before publishing. So, why bring up Jessica Lynch and Pat Tillman in a story within which we are talking about Rafael Peralta’s Congressional Medal of Honor? All three stories converge at the desk of Robert Gates.
Robert Gates, as Secretary of Defense in the Bush Administration, read that Peralta was killed by friendly fire – an American bullet. He still had a bad taste in his mouth from the Tillman and Lynch incidents. It is clear to me that he did not want to ignite another media firestorm, so he searched for a reason to decline the USMC’s request to award the Medal of Honor to Sergeant Rafael Peralta. Conveniently, he found a dissenter.
An anonymous complaint was filed with the Pentagon’s inspector general, citing several conflicting reports but emphasizing the dissenting pathologist who continued to insist that Peralta could not possibly have scooped a grenade under his body after sustaining the gunshot wound to his head.
In the original autopsy, the examiner concluded that Peralta could not have possibly been able to move after sustaining the bullet fragment wound to his head. He must not recall the story of Phineas Gage:
“On 13th September, 1848, 25-year-old Gage and his crew were working on the Rutland and Burlington Railroad near Cavendish in Vermont. Gage was preparing for an explosion by compacting a bore with explosive powder using a tamping iron. While he was doing this, a spark from the tamping iron ignited the powder, causing the iron to be propelled at high speed straight through Gage’s skull. It entered under the left cheek bone and exited through the top of the head, and was later recovered some 30 yards from the site of the accident.
The doctor who later attended to him, John Martin Harlow, later noted that the tamping iron was found “several rods [1 rod= 5.02m] behind him, where it was afterward picked up by his men smeared with blood and brain”. The tamping iron was 3ft 8 inches in length and 1.25 inches in diameter at one end…It tapered at one end, over a distance of about 1 ft., to a blunt end 0.25 inches in diameter, and weighed more than 6 kg.
Whether or not Gage lost consciousness is not known, but, remarkably, he was conscious and able to walk within minutes of the accident.”
Gage suffered psychological damage and a major personality shift, but he lived for another twelve years. Obviously, Peralta’s wound was not as serious as Gage’s. Three other doctors, neurosurgeons and neurologists, disagreed with the original pathologist’s supposition that Peralta had to have been incapacitated after sustaining the gunshot wound and so stated their disagreement in writing.
Yet, Gates refused to sign the recommendation for Peralta’s Medal of Honor. Leon Panetta reviewed the recommendation during his tenure and he concluded that the evidence did not prove beyond a shadow of a doubt that Peralta pulled the grenade under his body. It is obvious to me that neither Gates nor Panetta took the time to review all the evidence. I have read all the statements and reports given to me by Congressman Duncan Hunter’s office and it is clear to me that the grenade exploded underneath Peralta. If that is true, the only conclusion one can make is that Peralta pulled the grenade to his body to protect the other Marines in the room.
Just last week, Chuck Hagel decided again that there was not enough evidence to award a posthumous Medal of Honor to Rafael Peralta, yet he signed a recommendation for two dozen new Medals of Honor for veterans of Korea and Vietnam. I have not seen those packages, but I would be willing to venture that Rafael Peralta belongs in that group of two dozen new Medal of Honor winners.
To make matters worse, The Washington Post released a scandalous article shouting to the world that Marines recanted their testimony and that Peralta was not a hero. They quoted Tony Gonzales, who was not even in the house during the firefight, and Davi Allen who I interviewed several weeks ago. Davi told me that he watched the grenade until it exploded and also told me that he did not want to participate in a new investigation, yet he freely gave his new account to The Washington Post.
What do you think?
Put yourself in that room with Davi Allen and Rafael Peralta. One of your fellow Marines has been hit and you believe he is lying dead on the floor next to you. You see a grenade bounce into the room. You yell, “GRENADE” and dive for the corner, pushing another Marine into the corner with you. You cover to protect yourself from the explosion. The grenade goes off and peppers your backside with shrapnel. That is what all the witnesses will tell you. Davi Allen will tell you that too. But, what he told me in an interview, and apparently told The Washington Post too, is that he saw the grenade explode. Really? In 2004, Davi claimed he was “balled up” in the corner. He received all of his shrapnel wounds in his rear end and he is now claiming he watched the grenade until it exploded. Is this what The Washington Post based their claims on?
When a writer crafts a piece, he presents a picture to his readers. When I first read that Peralta had been shot in the head, I immediately thought of a catastrophic wound that would have killed him immediately. The Washington Post printed:
“Tony Gonzales, a corporal who was outside the house, said one of the Marines approached him, put a hand on his shoulder and wept.
“I shot Peralta with a three-round burst to the face,” the Marine told him, according to Gonzales. “He ran right in front of my line of fire.””
I immediately thought, ‘there is no way Peralta could have survived that.’ The Post article neglected to tell the reader that Peralta suffered a small wound to his cheek from a ricocheting fragment of a 5.56 round (NATO ammunition). The fragment traveled through his brain and was recovered at autopsy. They also failed to mention that several respected doctors wrote in the official reports that it was possible for Peralta to survive that wound long enough to drag a grenade to his body.
Also, Tony Gonzales was not in the room, his claim to involvement is that he helped pull Peralta’s body from the house. I have not heard Brown corroborate Gonzales’ story. And the issues Gonzales and Brown brought up in the Post article were thoroughly addressed by the Marine Corps investigators and discounted.
One of the Marines wounded inside the house, said Peralta saved his life that morning. “He gave me a chance to a second life.” He said the notion that Marines had agreed to make up the story was impossible, noting that he and others were medically evacuated soon after the blast. A Marine colonel assigned to investigate the facts wrote in a Nov. 17, 2005, report that he explored those allegations but became convinced that the Marines who testified to Peralta’s actions “gave an honest account.”
The Washington Post failed to vet its sources in 2001 when an overzealous military official leaked a story that Jessica Lynch ‘fought to her last bullet.” It appears that they have not learned their lesson. On Friday, they published a story about Rafael Peralta without vetting sources again. The Washington Post really needs to be more careful in what it publishes. Millions of people rely on what they read in the Post.
Richard S. Lowry is an internationally recognized military historian and author: New Dawn, the battles for Fallujah (Savas Beatie LLC, 2010); Marines in the Garden of Eden (Berkley Caliber, 2006); The Gulf War Chronicles (iUniverse, 2003 and iUniverse Star, 2008), and US Marine in Iraq: Operation Iraqi Freedom, 2003 (Osprey, 2006). Additionally, he contributed to Small Unit Actions(United States Marine Corps History Division, 2008). Visit www.RichardSLowry.com for more information about Richard and his work.
 http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/articles/A8612-2004Nov23.html, “Medics Testify to Fallujah’s Horrors”, Jackie Spinner, The Washington Post, Wednesday, November 24, 2004; Page A15.
 Email from the combat cameraman who recorded the aftermath of the incident, Steve Sebby, sent to Joe Kasper and Ernesto Londono on 20 February 2014.
 Battalion Landing Team 1/3, Investigating Officer – Major REDACTED, Review of insurgent engagement on 15 November 2004 involving Sergeant Rafael Peralta, 1 Jan 05, finding 24.
 Ibid. BLT 1/3, finding 27.
 Ibid. BLT 1/3.
 http://neurophilosophy.wordpress.com/2006/12/04/the-incredible-case-of-phineas-gage/ “The incredible case of Phineas Gage.”