November 15, 2004, while conducting combat operations in support of Operation Iraqi Freedom Marine sergeant Rafael Peralta gave his life to protect his fellow Marines.
Peralta, while engaged in close combat against insurgents in Fallujah during Operation Al Fajr saw a grenade thrown at his element and dove on top of it, saving the lives of his teammates. At the time of the incident Peralta was also said to have been shot and mortally wounded.
To honor the sacrifice of Sgt. Peralta the Department of Defense has named the 35th Arleigh Burke Class Missile Destroyer after him. The ceremony took place on October 31st at the General Dynamics Bath Iron Works, Bath, Maine.
Peralta was initially nominated to receive the Medal of Honor, however the defense secretary rejected the nomination on grounds that it is unclear whether Peralta was conscious at the time (given being already mortally wounded).
According to the Associated Press, “Peralta’s family which has no doubt about his valor, said naming the 510-foot guided-missile destroyer in the fallen Marine’s honor has eased some of the bitterness.”
Peralta and his family immigrated to California from Mexico when he was a child. Peralta attended and graduated from a high school in San Diego; the same day he received his green card he enlisted in the United States Marines.
To honor his Mexican heritage the dedication ceremony was printed in both English and Spanish, a first for christening ceremonies. Peralta is also believed to be the first person born in Mexico to have a warship named after them.
During the ceremony, Peralta’s brother, a former Marine himself read an excerpt from a letter his brother had sent him shortly before his death- “I’m proud to be a U.S. Marine, and to protect and defend the Constitution of America, [he writes] you should be proud to being an American citizen.”
Despite what the defense secretary concluded, it is undoubtable that Peralta is a true American hero. When all is said and done, there are Marines still alive today due to the selfless actions of Sergeant Rafael Peralta.