CAMP HANSEN, OKINAWA, Japan --
Each year, Americans celebrate the histories, cultures and contributions of American citizens of Hispanic ancestry in observation of National Hispanic Heritage Month from Sept. 15 to Oct. 15.
The theme for this year’s observance is “Heritage, Diversity, Integrity and Honor: the Renewed Hope of America.”
Throughout America’s history, Hispanics have distinguished themselves in their service to the nation and the Marine Corps, some giving their lives in the defense of the freedoms all Americans enjoy.
“We are a diverse Marine Corps - that is our legacy,” said Sgt. Maj. Daniel Fierle, III Marine Expeditionary Force sergeant major. “Hispanic Marines have done great things for the Corps, and it is important for everyone that their contributions are recognized.”
One such Marine is Sgt. Rafael Peralta, who made the ultimate sacrifice Nov. 15, 2004, while his unit was attached to the 31st Marine Expeditionary Unit in support of Operation Phantom Fury in Iraq.
Peralta, 25, immigrated to the San Diego area from Mexico in 1995 and joined the Marine Corps in 2000.
According to his Navy Cross citation, Peralta, a platoon guide with 1st Platoon, Company A, 1st Battalion, 3rd Marine Regiment, Regimental Combat Team 7, 1st Marine Division, was clearing houses in Fallujah, Iraq, with his team when he was shot multiple times with an AK-47.
Peralta “was a platoon (guide), 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 by giving them an extra Marine,” wrote combat correspondent Cpl. T.J. Kaemmerer Dec. 2, 2004, in a firsthand account of that day.
Peralta dropped to the ground and moved aside, allowing his team to return fire, according to the citation. After the initial exchange of gunfire, the insurgents broke contact, throwing a fragmentation grenade as they fled the building.
The grenade came to rest inches from Peralta’s head.
According to the citation, Peralta pulled the grenade to his body without hesitation, absorbing the brunt of the blast and shielding his fellow Marines from potential deadly fragmentation.
“In an act living up to the heroes of the Marine Corps’ past … Peralta – in his last fleeting moments of consciousness- reached out and pulled the grenade into his body,” Kaemmerer recounted.
“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,” Kaemmerer said.
In 2008, he was posthumously awarded the Navy Cross for his actions.
Prior to receiving the nation’s second highest award for valor, Peralta received several other honors, including the honorary title of San Diego police officer April 24, 2006, and the dedication of the 31st MEU’s Command Post building on Camp Hansen in his name Sept. 21, 2007.
“Throughout Operation Al Fajr, we were constantly being told that we were making history, but if the books never mention this battle in the future, I’m sure that the day and the sacrifice that was made, will never be forgotten by the Marines who were there,” concluded Kaemmerer of his account of Peralta’s actions.
The story of Peralta’s sacrifice for Corps and country is one of many demonstrating the honor, courage and commitment by Marines of Hispanic ancestry Corps-wide.
For more information on Hispanic Heritage Month, visit www.hispanicheritagemonth.gov.
Editor’s note: This story appeared in the Okinawa Marine on Sept. 24. This was the second in a series of articles about Hispanic Heritage Month. Kaemmerer, who survived the battle that took Peralta’s life in 2004, was killed in an automobile accident in Virginia in August 2006.