Hagel rejects Medal of Honor for Marine Sgt. Rafael Peralta

Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel announced Friday afternoon that he will not reopen the Medal of Honor nomination for U.S. Marine Corps Sgt. Rafael Peralta. 

As a scout team leader with Company A, 1st Battalion, 3rd Marines Regiment, Sgt. Peralta was leading a team in a series of house clearings in Fallujah. While clearing a house, he was hit by fire. When an insurgent threw a grenade at him and two Marines, Peralta absorbed most of the blast, which saved the lives of the others.

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Although Peralta was awarded the Navy Cross, he was not awarded the Medal of Honor due to doubt over whether he had consciously covered the grenade, or whether he was already clinically dead when he did so. 

After he became defense secretary, Hagel -- an Army infantry grunt who served in the Vietnam War -- said he would review Peralta's case. 

"After extensively familiarizing himself with the history of Sgt. Peralta's nomination, Secretary Hagel determined the totality of the evidence does not meet the 'proof beyond a reasonable doubt' Medal of Honor award standard," a Pentagon statement said Friday. 

"The Department of Defense has taken extraordinary measures to ensure Sgt. Peralta's nomination received full consideration. Three separate secretaries of defense have now examined the case, and each independently concluded the evidence does not support award of the Medal of Honor."

Both former secretaries Robert Gates and Leon Panetta had declined to award Peralta with the nation's highest battlefield honor. 

"The standard for the Medal of Honor is extremely high, as one would expect for our nation's most prestigious military medal," the statement continued. "Secretary Hagel and the department remain forever grateful to Sgt. Peralta for his selfless service to our nation." 

The announcement came after President Obama had announced just a few hours earlier on Friday that he would award the Medal of Honor to 24 Army veterans, including 19 of Jewish, Hispanic and African American descent whose cases the Pentagon reviewed "to ensure those deserving the Medal of Honor were not denied because of prejudice."