The family of a local Marine killed in combat protecting fellow troops in Iraq is defending his honor. NBC 7's Diana Guevara spoke with the family of Marine Sgt. Rafael Peralta.
It's been eight years since her brother's death, but instead of having time to grieve, Icela Donald and her family have been busy defending his honor.
Marine Sgt. Rafael Peralta died when he was caught in crossfire during an assault in Fallujah, Iraq eight years ago.
After clearing houses the previous three days, he agreed to join an under-manned squad and volunteered to stand post during the night of Nov. 14, 2004, which allowed his fellow Marines some time to rest.
During the assault, insurgents threw a fragmentation grenade and witnesses report that Peralta reached out and pulled the grenade to his body. Peralta absorbed the brunt of the blast, shielding his fellow Marines only feet away.
“He left a big whole in my heart and it's really been tough to deal with that but at the same time I'm really proud of him," she said. "Being Hispanic and being recognized in this country it's pretty big."
An act of bravery that nominated him for the Medal of Honor. In 2008, a panel shot down Peralta's case for the Medal of Honor granting him the Navy Cross instead.
"If they're doubting my brother and by us the family accepting that is saying, 'Oh we doubt about him too,'" Donald said.
New forensic evidence released earlier this year could change that.
Peralta’s his family is hoping the government will reverse its previous decision and grant him the military's highest award.
While the Navy began reviewing new evidence in the Peralta case in March, U.S. Rep. Duncan Hunter, has been pushing to award Peralta with the military's highest honor.
"Regardless of pathologists and all these reviews, investigations I know Rafa was capable to do that,” said Donald.
Peralta's family says they do not need a medal to prove his heroism. However, they believe this award is long overdue.
"Freedom is not free for us. You know we gave my brother's life you know he gave his life for us and you know, they have to recognize that," said Donald.
U.S. Secretary of Defense Leon Panetta is reviewing Peralta's case. Peralta's sister says the family has been in close contact with Hunter, They’re hoping to hear the outcome of this decision in a few weeks.