Medal of Honor Now a Question of Science?

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    NEWSLETTERS

    The Department of Defense has rejected a request to award the Medal of Honor to a San Diego Marine who witnesses say threw himself on a grenade to save his colleagues in Fallujah, Iraq in 2004.

    A local congressman is asking President Barack Obama to review the case of a San Diego Marine who was not awarded a Medal of Honor -- raising new questions about how the honor is determined.

    According to a report in the North County Times, Rep. Duncan D. Hunter says there appears to be a shift in criteria, placing more emphasis on science over witness reports.

    Marine Sgt. Rafael Peralta was a member of a unit assigned to the 31st Marine Expeditionary Unit during in an assault on Fallujah in November 2004.  He was caught in crossfire between insurgents and Marines, leaving him mortally wounded.  The insurgents threw a fragmentation grenade as they left the building, and according to witnesses, Peralta reached out and pulled the grenade to his body, absorbing the brunt of the blast.  He later died. 

    Peralta was posthumously awarded the second-highest honor, the Navy Cross.  The Medal of Honor nomination was rejected last year by a panel convened by Defense Secretary Robert Gates.  They concluded that the Marine's final act might not have been a deliberate act because he was dying from a gunshot wound to his head.

    Hunter sent a letter Thursday to Obama, asking him to review the case.
     
    "I firmly believe that eyewitness accounts of the event should take precedent through the entire chain of command review process because heroic actions in combat cannot always be explained by science alone," Hunter wrote.

    Sens. Dianne Feinstein and Barbara Boxer, and Reps. Brian Bilbray, Darrell Issa, Bob Filner and Susan Davis have also petitioned Obama to order a review of the Peralta matter, the Times reported.

    Gates has rejected calls for a second look at the Peralta decision. 

    Peralta's fellow Marines have said they were outraged by Gates' decision.  They gave official statements saying they saw him reach for the grenade -- an act they said saved the lives of at least six men.

    Peralta's family has refused to accept the Navy Cross, the Times reported.