WASHINGTON - Secretary of Defense Chuck Hagel has announced he will not reopen the Medal of Honor nomination for U.S. Marine Corps Sgt. Rafael Peralta. The Marine died in Iraq in 2004, but the effort to award him the nation's highest military honor is drawing conflicting accounts.
In 2004, Peralta's squad was clearing a house during the battle of Fallujah. When insurgents opened fire, the 25-year-old was standing next to Sgt. Nick Jones, who spoke with CBS News in 2010.
"They were just spraying and praying. Trying to hit anything that came through the door. Just happened to be us standing there," Jones said.
Peralta went down. It turns out he was hit by friendly fire and knocked to the ground. Then an insurgent tossed a grenade into the room.
"Before it even came to a stop, I saw his arm out and he grabbed it and scooped it underneath his body," Jones said.
Peralta was killed.
It is that version of events that led to Peralta being awarded the Navy Cross. But an unsuccessful request to reopen a Medal of Honor nomination has unearthed conflicting reports about what happened. Davi Allen, another Marine who served with Peralta, said he recently decided to tell the truth.
He confirmed for CBS News what he told The Washington Post - that the grenade detonated near, but not underneath, Peralta.
"It has always bugged me," Allen said. "I knew it's not the truth. But who wants to be the one to tell a family: 'Your son was not a hero'?"
But George Sabga, an attorney for Peralta's family, said, "The evidence doesn't show that."
He does not accuse Allen of lying.
"Now that's what Davi believes he saw; I can't dispute what he saw or what he believes he saw," Sabga said. "But what I can say is that the evidence shows otherwise."
The citation for the Navy Cross reads: "Without hesitation and with complete disregard for his own personal safety, Sergeant Peralta reached out and pulled the grenade to his body, absorbing the brunt of the blast and shielding fellow Marines only feet away."
Peralta has been denied the Medal of Honor, but he remains a hero to the mother who kneels by his grave.and to the man who says he was there when Peralta died
"He went toe to toe with the enemy," said Jones, "and he saved our lives."