The Navy Cross will be awarded to Sgt. Rafael Peralta posthumously for valor during combat operations conducted November 2004 in Fallujah, Iraq, the Secretary of the Navy announced Sept. 17.
Peralta, 25, based out of Kaneohe Bay, Hawaii, with Company A, 1st Battalion, 3rd Marine Regiment, assigned to 1st Marine Division, I Marine Expeditionary Force, was shot while clearing his seventh house on the morning of Nov. 15, 2004, during Operation Al Fajr, an assault to eliminate an insurgent stronghold within the city.
According to a I MEF press release, during search and attack operations Nov. 15, 2004, while clearing houses, Peralta was caught in a crossfire between Marines and insurgents, leaving him mortally wounded.
“After the initial exchange of gunfire, the insurgents broke contact, throwing a fragmentation grenade as they fled the building,” the press release said. "Without hesitation and with complete disregard for his own safety, Peralta reached out and pulled the grenade to his body, absorbing the brunt of the blast and shielding fellow Marines only feet away."
The medal will be presented to the Peralta family at a later date. Only 23 Marines and sailors have been awarded the Navy Cross since Operations Enduring Freedom and Iraqi Freedom began.
Born April 7, 1979, in Mexico City, Peralta was the oldest of four siblings. The son of Rafael and Rosa Peralta, he immigrated to the United States and joined the Marine Corps in April 2000 after receiving his green card and later became an American citizen.
Peralta is buried at Fort Rosecrans National Cemetery in San Diego. A funeral was held for him Nov. 23, 2004, at Marine Corps Recruit Depot San Diego.
Cpl. T. J. Kaemmerer, a combat correspondent who fought alongside Peralta, wrote about the day Peralta died:
“Mortally wounded, he jumped into the already cleared, adjoining room, giving the rest of us a clear line of fire through the doorway to the rear of the house. I saw four Marines firing from the adjoining room when a yellow, foreign-made, oval-shaped grenade bounced into the room, rolling to a stop close to Peralta’s nearly lifeless body ... in his last fleeting moments of consciousness (he) reached out and pulled the grenade into his body.”
Kaemmerer also retold the advice Cpl. Richard A. Mason, an infantryman with Headquarters Platoon, told him shortly after Peralta's death: "You’re still here; don’t forget that. Tell your kids, your grandkids, what Sgt. Peralta did for you and the other Marines today."