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Saturday, December 4, 2004



[ THE WAR IN IRAQ ]


Marine threw himself on
grenade, say comrades

They say Sgt. Rafael Peralta,
mortally wounded, saved the lives
of at least eight platoon mates

Comrades recall how barely living Kaneohe Marine Sgt. Rafael Peralta saved them by smothering the blast of a grenade in Fallujah, Iraq, two weeks ago -- much like Medal of Honor winners of past wars.

Wake planned for Pearl City Marine

A wake service will be held for Lance Cpl. Blake Magaoay, the Pearl City Marine killed Monday in Fallujah, Iraq, from 5 to 9 p.m. Dec. 12 at Borthwick Mortuary.

A memorial service will follow at 10:30 a.m. Dec. 13, with burial at the National Memorial Cemetery of the Pacific (Punchbowl) at 1 p.m. Friends may call after 9:30 a.m.

"He saved half my fire team," Cpl. Brannon Dyer, 27, of Blairsville, Ga., told the Army Times.

One of Peralta's platoon mates, Lance Cpl. Rob Rogers, 22, of Tallahassee, Fla., told the Army Times, "It's stuff you hear about in boot camp, about World War II and Tarawa Marines who won the Medal of Honor."

Peralta -- a Mexican American who lived in San Diego -- was killed while assigned to Kaneohe's Alpha Company, 1st Battalion, 3rd Marine Regiment, on Nov. 15, the eighth day of Operation Al Fajr in Fallujah. The mission for the Kaneohe Marines: Clear the city of insurgents, building by building.

Lance Cpl. T.J. Kaemmerer, a combat correspondent who was attached to Alpha Company, witnessed Peralta who, in his last moments of consciousness, reached out and pulled a grenade into his body, protecting the lives of at least eight fellow Kaneohe Marines.

Kaemmerer reports that Peralta was a platoon scout in the Kaneohe unit, which meant he could have stayed back in safety while the squads of 1st Platoon went into the danger-filled streets. But he was constantly asking to help out.

Kaemmerer was with Peralta when the platoon breached a gate and swiftly approached a building.

"The first Marine in the stack kicked in the front door," he said, "revealing a locked door to their front and another at the right. Kicking in the doors simultaneously, one stack filed swiftly into the room to the front as the other group of Marines darted off to the right."

"Clear!" screamed the Marines in one of the rooms, followed only seconds later by another shout of "clear!" from the second room, Kaemmerer reports.

"One word told us all we wanted to know about the rooms: There was no one in there to shoot at us. We found that the two rooms were adjoined and we had another closed door in front of us. We spread ourselves throughout the rooms to avoid a cluster going through the next door.

"Two Marines stacked to the left of the door as Peralta, rifle in hand, tested the handle. I watched from the middle, slightly off to the right of the room as the handle turned with ease. Ready to rush into the rear part of the house, Peralta threw open the door.

"Pop. Pop. Pop. Multiple bursts of cap-gun-sounding AK-47 fire rang throughout the house.

"Three insurgents with AK-47s were waiting for us behind the door.

"Peralta was hit several times in his upper torso and face at point-blank range by the fully automatic 7.62 mm weapons employed by three terrorists. Mortally wounded, he jumped into the already cleared adjoining room, giving the rest of us a clear line of fire through the doorway to the rear of the house.

"We opened fire, adding the bangs of M-16A2 service rifles and the deafening, rolling cracks of a Squad Automatic Weapon, or SAW, to the already nerve-racking sound of the AKs. One Marine was shot through the forearm and continued to fire at the enemy.

"I saw four Marines firing from the adjoining room, when a yellow, foreign-made, oval-shaped grenade bounced into the room, rolling to a stop close to Peralta's nearly lifeless body.

"I watched in fear and horror as the other four Marines scrambled to the corners of the room and the majority of the blast was absorbed by Peralta's now lifeless body. His selflessness left four other Marines with only minor injuries from smaller fragments of the grenade.

"Later that night, while I was thinking about the day's somber events, Cpl. Richard A. Mason, an infantryman with headquarters platoon, who in the short time I was with the company became a good friend, told me, 'You're still here, don't forget that. Tell your kids, your grandkids, what Sgt. Peralta did for you and the other Marines today.'"

Chuck Little, Marine spokesman at Camp Smith, said the incident will be "looked at in depth and witnesses interviewed" before any determination is made if he will be given any type of medal for his life-saving action.

Peralta had wanted to enlist in the Marine Corps right after graduating from Morse High School in San Diego in 1997. But since he was a Mexican citizen, he had to wait until August 2000, after he got his green card.

He transferred to Kaneohe in December 2003 and re-enlisted for four more years in April.



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