USS Rafael Peralta Christened in Honor of Marine Corps Sgt

 In Military, Tech

The newest addition to the United States fleet of warships is the USS Rafael Peralta, an Arleigh-Burke Class Destroyer (Flight II-A, DDG-115), christened Saturday in honor of Marine Sgt Rafael Peralta.  Sgt Peralta had reportedly been  up for a Medal of Honor for pulling a grenade under himself in an effort to absorb the blast and save his comrades during Operation Iraqi Freedom. But there was a hitch in that story- not everyone said it was true.

The crowd assembles for the USS Peralta christening ceremony – photo by Ben McKanna/Press Herald

The Destroyer

The ship was christened on October 31, 2015, at Bath Iron Works in Maine, the 35th ship created at the company.  Sgt. Peralta’s mother swung the bottle of champagne, breaking it across the bow in the traditional send off to a new vessel.

It is one of 3 new Arleigh-Burke Class destroyers named for military heroes: the USS John Finn (DG 113), the USS Ralph Johnson (DG 114) and the USS Rafael Peralta, (DG 115)

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Screenshot from the ship naming ceremony in September 2013 via NBC

It has  several improvements in terms of ballistic missile defense, and the inclusion of mine detecting ability, among other things. The ship will be utilized for strike operations, anti-aircraft, anti-submarine, and anti-surface warfare.

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Sgt Rafael Peralta, USMC

Conflicting accounts

Some in Sgt Peralta’s unit say that the story perpetuated about his actions may not have been true. So with conflicting reports on the incident, the Navy awarded Sgt Peralta the Navy Cross instead of the Medal of Honor. At NO TIME did anyone suggest that Sgt. Peralta himself did anything other than serve with valor and honor.

The Washington Post reported in February of 2014,

On the morning of Nov. 15, eight days into the operation, Peralta’s team came under fire after entering a house. The Marines shot back as they scrambled to ascertain where the insurgents were firing from. A handful of the infantrymen saw Peralta drop to the floor. Seconds later, an Iraqi grenade landed near him and exploded.

In the immediate aftermath of the blast, some of the men in the unit feared they had been the ones who shot Peralta, according to Allen. 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-burst round to the face,” the Marine told him, according to Gonzales. “He ran right in front of my line of fire.”

Brown, who said he dashed out of the house when he saw the grenade land on the floor, recalls feeling uncomfortable when he heard Marines in the squad suggest that they embellish the story of Peralta’s death. Another Marine who was outside the house and corroborated Brown’s account said the story of Peralta jumping on the grenade didn’t feel like a coverup at the time.

“Looking back, I truly believe it was something they wanted to be noble,” said the Marine, who spoke on the condition of anonymity because he remains in the service and does not want to be publicly associated with the controversy. “I don’t think it was something done to cover anything up. It was more like, this is something we should do for him.”

An investigation into the incident continued to reveal inconsistencies with the story. One specific part of the investigation stated that Peralta could have been the victim of friendly fire, and having been shot,  would not have had the strength to pull the grenade under him.  The USMC does not count this incident in their friendly fire statistics.

A son, A Marine Brother, lost in an unfortunate set of circumstances

Other Marines in that unit say that Peralta’s actions saved their lives. Many others say they fabricated the story to do something good for the Marine Sgt. Though Congressmen and others pitched for a Medal of Honor, the investigation by Secretary of Defense Chuck Hagel’s office returned conflicting reports. So the compromise, a Navy Cross, was given posthumously to the family. Peralta had already received two purple hearts.

Regardless of what happened, Mrs. Peralta lost her beloved son. He had joined the Marine Corps on the very day he received his green card. The striking colors of the uniform, the advertisements  for the Marines of the day with a sword fighting a dragon, the saying of “The Few, the Proud”…all helped to seal the young man’s desire to be a part of something greater than himself.

Sgt Rafael Peralta could be a hero, or an unfortunate victim. Regardless of that confusion, he was a son, and a USMC brother in arms. And that is worthy of honor and respect.

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