U.S. Marine Sgt. Rafael Peralta, 25, died in combat in Iraq in 2004. He was awarded the Navy Cross but rejected for the Medal of Honor. / U.S. Marine Corps, AP
Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel announced Friday that he will not reopen the Medal of Honor nomination for Marine Sgt. Rafael Peralta, who was killed in Iraq in 2004 and awarded the nation's second highest honor for combat valor.
"After extensively familiarizing himself with the history of Sgt. Peralta's nomination, Secretary Hagel determined the totality of the evidence does not meet the 'proof beyond a reasonable doubt' Medal of Honor award standard," the Pentagon wrote in statement issued Friday night.
Several witnesses reported that the 25-year-old Peralta, from San Diego, smothered a hand grenade blast during intense fighting in Fallujah, saving three fellow Marines inside a house. He was posthumously awarded the Navy Cross - which his family refused to accept - and nominated for the Medal of Honor.
But in 2008, former Defense Secretary Robert Gates rejected the nomination after a review of medical evidence suggested Peralta died from a bullet to the head before he could have grabbed the grenade. The report determined that the blast occurred between 6 and 10 feet from his body.
After Gates' successor, Leon Panetta, concurred with the findings in late 2012, the California congressional delegation asked Hagel to reopen the case because of physical evidence and video footage not initially available.
Noting that the "standard for the Medal of Honor is extremely high," the statement said the Pentagon had "taken extraordinary measures to ensure Sgt. Peralta's nomination received full consideration. Three separate secretaries of defense have now examined the case, and each independently concluded the evidence does not support award of the Medal of Honor."
The statement concluded by saying Hagel and the Pentagon "remain forever grateful to Sgt. Peralta for his selfless service to our nation."
Last fall, the Navy and Marine Corps named a destroyer after Peralta.
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