SAN DIEGO, CA, USA U.S. Marine Corps SGT, 1ST BN, 3D MAR, 1ST MAR DIV, CAMP PENDLETON, CA FALLUJAH, IRAQ 11/15/2004
Sergeant Rafael Peralta is dead, but the story of his sacrifice to save fellow Marines will live long in Marine Corps lore. In the fierce battle for the Iraqi town of Fallouja, Peralta, with gunshot wounds to his head and body, reached out and grabbed a grenade hurled by an insurgent, cradling it to his body to save others from the blast.
The explosion in the back room of a house injured one Marine, but four others managed to scramble to safety.
Peralta, 25, an immigrant from Mexico who enlisted the day he got his green card work permit, was declared dead en route to a field hospital.
“If he hadn’t done what he did, a lot of us wouldn’t be seeing our families again,” said Lance Cpl. Travis J. Kaemmerer, who witnessed the blast.
Garry Morrison, the father of Lance Cpl. Adam Morrison, had trouble keeping his voice from breaking when he spoke of Peralta.
“He saved the life of my son and every Marine in that room,” Morrison said in a phone call from Seattle. “I just know one thing: God has a special place in heaven for Sergeant Peralta.”
Similar gratitude was expressed by family members of other Marines in Peralta’s unit who were close to the blast. The unit was Alpha Company, 1st Battalion, 3rd Marine Regiment, 3rd Marine Division.
“The Bible says it all: ‘No greater love hath no man than to give his life for another,’ ” Becky Dyer, the wife of Cpl. Brannon Dyer, said in a phone call from Honolulu.
“My husband and I both feel that way,” she said. “That’s how the whole company feels about Sergeant Peralta.”
In a modest home in a blue-collar neighborhood, the Peralta family feels pride but also grief, anger and confusion. Rafael Peralta was the oldest son: strong, a weightlifter and athlete, head of the family since his father died in a workplace accident three years ago. He loved the Marine Corps.
He joined in 2000 and recently had reenlisted. While in the Marines, he became a U.S. citizen. The only decorations on his bedroom walls are a copy of the U.S. Constitution, the Bill of Rights and a picture of his boot camp graduation.
As Peralta waited last month to begin the assault on the insurgent stronghold of Fallouja, he wrote a letter to his 14-year-old brother, Ricardo.
The letter arrived the day after several Marines and a Navy chaplain came to the Peralta home to notify the family of his death.
“We are going to destroy insurgents,” Peralta wrote. “Watch the news…. Be proud of me, bro. I’m going to do something I always wanted to do.You should be proud of being an American. Our father came to this country and became a citizen because it was the right place for our family to be. If anything happens to me, just remember I’ve already lived my life to the fullest.”