Eleven years after he was killed in Iraq, the family of a San Diego Marine will posthumously receive the Navy Cross at a ceremony at Camp Pendleton on Monday.
The military’s second highest honor bestowed to Sgt. Rafael Peralta came with controversy over whether he should have received the higher award, the Medal of Honor.
Peralta fell on a grenade in 2004 to save his fellow troops. However, he was denied the Medal of Honor because a previous Defense Secretary cited forensic evidence that suggests Peralta was not conscious when he smothered the grenade with his body.
A request to reopen the Medal of Honor nomination was made three times over the years.
Still, though it took more than a decade for Peralta to receive the Navy Cross, his family told NBC 7 that now feels like an appropriate time.
“She’s been attending ceremonies for the ship and she had like an epiphany where she felt that it was the appropriate time to accept it. That way, she can hold onto the medal for a few months before donating it,” said Peralta’s brother, Ricardo Peralta, on behalf of his mother.
The family said they’ll give the award to the Navy ship being dedicated to Peralta’s honor this summer.
In reflecting on the award, Ricardo Peralta said his brother always fortuitously said he would make history. Even so, Rafael Peralta didn’t serve his country for an award or notoriety.
“He was never about all that,” Ricardo Peralta said. “Regardless of what they give him, it does not take away anything or add to my pride.”
Rafael Peralta’s mother said she is humbled by the award, but believes her son is a hero even without one.
“Every military person willing to fight overseas is a hero to everyone,” Rosa Peralta said in Spanish, interpreted by Ricardo Peralta.