(AP Photo/Pablo Martinez Monsivais)
SAN DIEGO - A California congressional delegation asked President Bush on Friday to posthumously award the Medal of Honor to a Marine who was chosen to receive only the second-highest medal the Navy can bestow for valor.
The delegation, spearheaded by Rep. Duncan Hunter, sent a letter asking for a review of the case of Sgt. Rafael Peralta, who witnesses say covered a grenade with his body to save comrades on Nov. 15, 2004, during fighting in Fallujah, Iraq. Already wounded by gunfire, he died immediately.
A copy of the letter given to The Associated Press was signed by a bipartisan group of five other representatives and Sens. Dianne Feinstein and Barbara Boxer. It urges Bush to award the nation's highest honor, the same medal he gave to Marine Cpl. Jason L. Dunham, who was killed in 2004 after covering a grenade with his helmet.
"Intentionally absorbing a grenade blast to protect one's comrades in arms has been traditionally recognized by awarding the Medal of Honor. The sacrifice of Sergeant Peralta manifests the same devotion to one's comrade's and country as that displayed by Jason Dunham," the letter said.
The White House had no immediate comment Friday.
The bipartisan delegation formed after Peralta's mother said publicly this week that she was told her son would be awarded the Navy Cross, rather than the Medal of Honor, because the nomination was tainted by reports he was accidentally shot by a fellow Marine shortly before an insurgent lobbed the grenade.
"It's difficult as a mother to lose your son, but it's good that people are remembering him. He was a person who gave everything and took nothing," Rosa Peralta said after the AP informed her of the congressional effort.
"I'm very pleased to hear this news; we wanted justice," she said.
Bush singled out the Marine's actions in a 2005 Memorial Day speech, saying Peralta "understood that America faces dangerous enemies, and he knew the sacrifices required to defeat them."
The question of whether to award Peralta the Medal of Honor centers on whether the mortally wounded Marine, who had been shot in the head and upper body during a house-to-house search, could have intentionally reached for the grenade and covered it with his body.
The initial recommendation that he receive the Medal of Honor went through reviews by the Marine Corps, U.S. Central Command, the Department of the Navy and, ultimately, Defense Secretary Robert Gates.
After all the evidence was scrutinized, officials determined the nomination did not meet the standard necessary to support the Medal of Honor, said Capt. Beci Brenton, spokeswoman for Navy Secretary Donald Winter.
Defense Department officials have said that because there was some contradictory evidence, Gates took the extra step of asking for a review by a panel consisting of a former commander of U.S. forces in Iraq, a Medal of Honor recipient, a civilian neurosurgeon who is retired from the military and two forensic pathologists who also are military retirees.
The panel recommended against the Medal of Honor, and Gates made the decision this month, officials said.
Peralta, 25, was assigned to Hawaii's 1st Battalion, 3rd Marine Regiment. He had moved to San Diego from Tijuana as a teenager.