SAN DIEGO -- One of the most heralded Marines from 2004’s Battle of Fallujah was honored during a ship-naming ceremony aboard Naval Base San Diego, Calif., Sept. 20.
Friends and family watched as the USS Rafael Peralta took on the namesake of the late Navy Cross recipient, Sgt. Rafael Peralta. Secretary of the Navy, Ray Mabus, announced the naming of the 65th Arleigh Burke-class destroyer in February 2012.
The event was a proud moment for the Peralta family, and brought to life a moment of heroism performed almost one decade ago.
Peralta, a Mexican immigrant who joined the Marine Corps as soon as he obtained his green card in 2000, deployed to Iraq as a scout leader with 1st Battalion, 3rd Marine Regiment, and soon found himself leading a squad of Marines through house-to-house urban warfare during the second battle of Fallujah, Operation Al-Fajr.
According to a Marine Corps article from Cpl. Travis J. Kaemmerer, who was embedded with Peralta’s squad, on Nov. 15, 2004, Peralta and members of his squad kicked down a door and were instantly fired upon—Peralta was fatally wounded and fell to the floor.
In that instant, he noticed a grenade only a foot from his head, and without hesitation reached out, grabbed it and pressed it to his heart, subsequently saving the lives of the other Marines in his squad.
“That kind of heroism, that kind of love for his fellow men did not fall on deaf ears,” said Lt. Gen. John A. Toolan, commanding general of I Marine Expeditionary Force. “And by naming this ship today, we remember that kind of heroism.”
Lance Cpl. Ricardo Peralta, an infantryman like his heroic brother, is currently assigned to 3rd Battalion, 7th Marine Regiment, and accompanied his mother, Rosa, to the ceremony.
“It’s really emotional for the family because his nomination for the Medal of Honor has now been turned down more than once,” Peralta said. “But we know that there’s not a single decoration or medal that they can give him that will make us more proud. We’re proud to the fullest.”
Ricardo Peralta, only 14 years old, received a letter from his brother before he left for Fallujah.
“Be proud of me, bro…and be proud of being an American,” Rafael Peralta wrote.
The younger Peralta said his brother was always a leader, whether on the soccer field or battlefield. People often looked up to him. His brother’s leadership and sacrifice created a drive in the younger Peralta, which formed into a promise.
“At his wake, I held his hands and promised him that I would join the Marine Corps for him, and not just join the military, but go into the infantry,” Peralta said.
Peralta said people often recognize the name on his uniform nametape and ask if there’s any relation to the war hero or Sgt. Peralta. Many individuals have approved the lance corporal to tell him they were motivated to join the Marine Corps after hearing his brother’s story.
“In boot camp, there are classes where his Navy Cross citation is read, so every Marine hears about him,” Peralta said. “That’s when it hit me. He truly is a legend. I had no idea, because I was not in the Marine Corps until that day.”
When their father passed, it was Rafael’s responsibility to look over the family, a privilege that was passed to Ricardo too soon. “Whenever they need anything, I’m always willing to help them,” Peralta said.
Despite the strength that Peralta has, he admits his mother has to be even stronger.
“My mom is a strong woman. She’s dealt with my father’s death and my brother’s death,” Peralta said. “Emotionally, she’s sad about it, but we’re proud and happy to be here. I remember my mom telling me that it gives her comfort in all these ceremonies. We’ve been through so many ceremonies. It gives her comfort that her son is not forgotten.”
The ceremony ended with a look to the future, the rebirth of a hero.
“Your loved one’s legacy will soon be forged in steel and sent to sea to support our national interests and those of our key partners abroad,” Toolan said.