By THE ASSOCIATED PRESS
SAN DIEGO -- The secretary of defense last week denied a request to upgrade a fallen Marine's Navy Cross to the Medal of Honor, a San Diego congressman's office said.
U.S. Defense Secretary Leon Panetta reaffirmed the ruling that Sgt. Rafael Peralta will instead keep the Navy Cross awarded to him for his heroism during a 2004 battle in Iraq. It supports the decision of former Defense Secretary Robert Gates.
Peralta was leading a squad of Marines in Fallujah on Nov. 15, 2004. He and his team were searching a house for insurgents when they were met by enemy gunfire. During an ensuing gun battle, Peralta was shot by friendly fire.
Marines who were with him during the battle said an insurgent threw at grenade at the squad, and Peralta picked it up and placed it under his body, an act they claimed saved the lives of other Marines.
However, Gates ruled that Peralta was not conscious and brain dead when his body smothered the grenade.
The case was reopened this year after U.S. Rep. Duncan Hunter obtained a video of the battle action and a new forensics report. The lawmaker said the new evidence proved Peralta's actions were intentional. But defense officials found the new evidence was not sufficient to change the decision.
Navy Secretary Ray Mabus told reporters during a visit to Camp Pendleton that he had recommended Peralta be honored with the Medal of Honor.
Hunter's office told them the congressman, a former combat Marine who served in Iraq and Afghanistan, would continue to fight to get the medal upgraded.