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Public Statements

National Defense Authorization Act for Fiscal Year 2013

Floor Speech

By:
Date:
Location: Washington, DC

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Mr. HUNTER. Mr. Chairman, the war in Iraq has come to a close. And while the Iraq mission is over, countless examples of combat heroism performed by our military over nearly a decade of operations are both an inspiration and a reminder of the service and sacrifice of so many marines, sailors, soldiers, and airmen.

For Iraq, there have been hundreds of Silver Stars awarded. There have been 21 Navy Crosses and 15 Distinguished Service Crosses. The Nation's highest award for combat valor--the Medal of Honor--was presented on only four occasions. Each was awarded posthumously, three for action that involved smothering a grenade to save others.

One marine, Sergeant Rafael Peralta, who was posthumously nominated for the Medal of Honor deserves to be part of this distinguished group of heroes. But he's not. He was denied that honor when his nomination was wrongly downgraded to the Navy Cross.

The incident leading to the nomination occurred in 2004 during combat in Fallujah, Iraq. He and several marines entered a room and came into immediate contact with the enemy. A firefight erupted, and Peralta was hit in the back of the head with a fragment of a ricocheted bullet. While Peralta was on the floor, a grenade was thrown and landed within his reach. He scooped up the grenade and pulled it into his body, saving the lives of his fellow marines.

Seven marines confirmed his actions. So did the medical evidence. And the Marine Corps, after conducting its own review, nominated Peralta for the Medal of Honor. The Navy agreed with the Marine Corps and sent the nomination to former Secretary of Defense Robert Gates. That's where the nomination was downgraded, 4 years after Peralta's death.

Secretary Gates came to this conclusion after taking the unprecedented step of forming a scientific panel to review the evidence. Contrary to the eyewitness accounts, the evidence submitted, and the recommendation of the Marine Corps and the Navy, Secretary Gates determined Peralta could not have consciously pulled the grenade to his body. And if he did, it was involuntary, according to Secretary Gates. His judgment also concluded that the grenade detonated 1 to 3 feet from Peralta's left knee, not underneath his body.

Yet the Navy Cross citation reads and exactly parallels the Medal of Honor citation:

Without hesitation and with complete disregard for his own personal safety, Sergeant Peralta reached out and pulled the grenade to his body, absorbing the brunt of the blast and shielding his fellow marines only feet away.

That's an indisputable statement. And the Navy Cross citation was awarded. According to this citation, Peralta did exactly what Secretary Gates said he didn't or couldn't have done. Now, more than 8 years after Peralta's death, new evidence is currently under review by the Navy, evidence found by my office and by Joe Casper on my staff, in particular, along with the History Channel--evidence that the Navy never even saw. We gave this evidence to the Navy, and it validates the eyewitness accounts that led to the Medal of Honor nomination.

I also have a report from a renowned forensic pathologist. The report, which accounts for the condition of the body armor, autopsy findings, and the pathologist's own experience with head wounds, concludes Peralta was not immediately incapacitated by the brain injury and, in fact, reached for the grenade and pulled it under his body. I have seen this video evidence.

Earlier this year, the Navy took a major step in recognizing Sergeant Peralta and named a destroyer in his honor--a great honor. The Navy and Secretary Ray Mabus in particular deserve to be commended for their decision, as well as their commitment to honoring Sergeant Peralta's sacrifice.

The new evidence was submitted to the Navy months ago, and I did receive confirmation from Secretary Mabus that the evidence is being reviewed in the hope of resubmitting the Medal of Honor nomination. And based on the evidence, I'm confident in the Navy's ability to make the right decision.

But even so, this process doesn't stop with the Navy. Resubmitting the nomination will still require the approval of the Secretary of Defense. And knowing the extent of the information before the Navy, prompting its initial decision and any subsequent decision will be valuable to ensuring the error in judgment that denied Peralta the Medal of Honor is corrected once and for all.

I know that I speak for my colleagues in saying we look forward to the Navy's decision.

And with that, I yield back the balance of my time.

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