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CNN "CNN Newsroom" - Transcript

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PHILLIPS: The Medal of Honor is the highest military distinction an American trooper can receive and in our 10 years of war, only 10 have been awarded.

Congressman and U.S. Marine Duncan Hunter wants to change that. He says we need to recognize the courage and costs of war more. Take Marine Corps Sergeant Rafael Peralta, for example. He was killed in Iraq in 2004. He covered an insurgent's grenade with his body taking his life but saving his comrades. Just one of many stories the congressman wants to recognize.

I had a chance to ask him why Medals of Honor are awarded today at the fraction of the rate of World War I through Vietnam.

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REP. DUNCAN HUNTER (R), CALIFORNIA: I don't know why. In fact, in Vietnam, we actually gave out over 200, 200 men earned the Medal of Honor. I think the average is 2.3 per 1 million prior to the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. That's dropped precipitously. In fact, we've only given out of those 10 Medals of Honor, we've only given out three to living people, and those only during this administration's tenure.

So, during the Bush administration's tenure, there were zero Medals of Honor given out to living recipients. I don't know what the reason is. The DOD tells us that the nature of war has changed, and we're no longer fighting hand to hand. We're no longer in a close quarter combat.

Tell that to the Marines in Fallujah, to those soldiers in Ramadi and Iraq, and those Marines and soldiers fighting in Afghanistan right now, risking their lives and doing courageous things every single day -- not recognizing them for what they're doing is a travesty.

PHILLIPS: Well, on top of that -- I mean, yes, we do fight differently, but our warriors are also up against a different enemy, Congressman, one that doesn't fight fair -- roadside bombs, suicide bombers. There's no rules of engagements like in past wars.

Shouldn't we be giving our troopers even more recognition for that?

HUNTER: You're absolutely right and there's no more front line either. Everything is open to conflict, behind the lines, in the basis as we've seen and out in no man's land in Afghanistan.

The reality is, though, that Marines and soldiers still have to clear and hold ground. They always have from the beginning of warfare and they always will.

I can name you multiple, multiple cases and hundreds of cases where singular acts of valor have saved dozens of lives, killed dozens of insurgents. These aren't bombs dropping out of the sky, these aren't laser-guided bombs and these aren't IEDs.

These are men rushing the enemy, looking them in the eye and sometimes finishing them off with their knives, with their helmets, with empty rifles used as gloves. If that's not close quarter combat, I don't know what is.

PHILLIPS: Finally, the Pentagon issued a statement to you, saying that the criteria for the Medal of Honor are longstanding, have not changed for current conflicts and that each recommendation is carefully considered.

So, now, you have written this formal letter that I had a chance to read to the sec def. What do you want Leon Panetta to do?

HUNTER: I simply want DOD to do its job. I think that the numbers tell a different story than what the DODs line for this is.

I would like DOD to look at all their Silver Star, their Navy Cross, their Distinguished Service Cross, awards, and specifically compare those with the awards given in Vietnam and World War II.

I think you will find that these lower awards now could easily be upgraded to the Medal of Honor. DOD is there to make sure that the men and women serving get what they deserve, if they deserve a higher award. That's what the DOD should be doing.

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