CAMP HANSEN, OKINAWA, Japan --
As Memorial Day nears, it is important to look back, and think about why Memorial Day is celebrated, and who it is celebrated for.
According to www.va.gov, Memorial Day was officially proclaimed May 5, 1868. It was originally known as Decoration Day, and was a time when people would decorate the graves of those that fell during the Civil War.
It has since been extended to honor all those that have fallen in service to the country in every war.
Those like Sgt. Rafael Peralta, a 31st Marine Expeditionary Unit Marine that in a selfless act of valor, gave his life to ensure those serving beside him could live.
Born in Mexico City, Mexico, Peralta immigrated to the United States and graduated from Morse High School in San Diego, California, in 1997.
He later joined the Marine Corps the day he received his green card, and served with “enthusiasm and patriotism.”
He was assigned to the Battalion Landing Team 1st Battalion, 3rd Marine Regiment, 31st MEU, when he was deployed in support of Operation Iraqi Freedom in 2004.
During his time spent in Iraq, he participated in Operation Phantom Fury, where he and the Marines he was serving with were given the task of retaking the insurgent-infested city of Fallujah.
Before the operation began, he wrote a letter to his younger 14-year-old brother saying “Be proud of me bro, and be proud to be an American.”
While growing up Peralta had just two things hanging on his wall, the declaration of independence, and the bill of rights, and upon completing recruit training, added his boot camp graduation certificate.
On November 15, 2004, during search and clearance operations, while clearing the seventh house of the day, Peralta entered a room and was immediately shot multiple times at close range.
His fire team returned fire, wounding one of the insurgents. The insurgents then broke contact and threw a fragmentation grenade at the Marines.
In his last act of selfless bravery, witnesses say Peralta, barely alive, grabbed the grenade and pulled it under his body, absorbing the blast.
Cpl. Brannon Dyer told a reporter from the Army Times, “He saved half my fire team.”
According to Lance Cpl. Travis J. Kaemmerer, a combat correspondent that served with him while deployed in Iraq, Peralta was a platoon scout, which means he could have stayed back and out of danger.
But he was constantly asking if he could help and give his fellow Marines going into harm’s way a hand.
After he gave his life, Cpl. Richard A. Mason, an infantryman with Headquarters Platoon, 1/3, told Kaemmerer, “Your still here, don’t forget that. Tell your kids, your grandkids, what Sgt. Peralta did for you and the other Marines today.”
For his actions, Peralta was posthumously awarded the Navy Cross, America’s second highest award.
So as we celebrate Memorial Day this year, it is important to remember what Marines like Peralta do for the country, and what service members continue to do every day to ensure the safety of America’s citizens.
To this day the Marines of the 31st MEU are proud to have had Peralta and many Marines like him serve in its ranks.
To ensure his memory lives on through the Marines that serve today, the 31st MEU’s command post, building 2533, Camp Hansen, was christened Peralta Hall in his honor September 21, 2007.
The 31st MEU is America’s only continually forward-deployed MEU, and remains the nation’s force-in-readiness in the Asia-Pacific region. The MEU honors the meaning of Memorial Day through its commitment to being always ready and remembering the sacrifice of those who have given all.