Posts Tagged ‘Fallujah’

A Hero’s Last Mission

May 24, 2017

This is the city, Fallujah, Iraq. When insurgents took over the city, elements of the 3rd Marine Regiment went to work to force them out.

It was Monday November 15th. It was hot in Fallujah. As part of Operation Al Fajr Alpha Company, 1st Battalion, 3rd Marine Regiment was clearing houses of insurgents.

Sgt. Rafael Peralta volunteered to join an undermanned squad participating in the operation even though he wasn’t required to. Although Peralta wasn’t born in the United States, he was so grateful for being given a green card he decided to enlist in the Marines.

[Psychology professors often conduct an experiment in which someone enters the classroom does something and then leaves the room. Students typically give a variety of different accounts of what happened. If this happens in a stable situation, imagine the difficulty of recognizing and remembering what happened in a chaotic situation when someone is shooting at you and all are moving.

Those of us who have watched videos of football plays which last only a few seconds know it is sometimes necessary to rewind the video a few times to tell what happened and what order various actions occurred. The entire incident in Iraq from the opening of the door to the explosion of the grenade might have taken six seconds or less.]

After clearing several houses the Marines entered a house where they found two rooms. After clearing the first two rooms the Marines found that the two rooms were linked at the other end where they found the closed door to a third room. .

Sgt. Peralta opened the door to the third room and they were met by gunfire. In the confusion that followed. combat correspondent Lance Corporal T.J. Kaemmerer thought that Peralta was hit in the face with gunfire,. However, this claim is inconsistent with the pathologist report that his fatal head wound was in the back of the head rather than the face. The statement that “he jumped into the already cleared, adjoining room”indicates Peralta was not seriously wounded by the initial gunfire.

I doubt Kaemmerer’s description of a grenade “bouncing” into the room Peralta was in. Grenades don’t bounce very well and a grenade coming in like that wouldn’t have gotten much past the door. I think it is more probable that Peralta followed the grenade into the room. Peralta was in the best position to see the grenade come through the doorway. His view of the doorway could have allowed him to see the grenade as it left the insurgent’s hand. His movement after he opened the door might have been intended to help him try to catch the grenade or deflect it. If the insurgent noticed Peralta he likely tried to throw the grenade so it would be difficult for Peralta to catch.

Gravity would have caused the grenade to hit the floor less than half a second after it was thrown. The insurgent would have had to throw the grenade at a speed of at least 30-45 mph [44-66 feet per second] to get it into the room with the Marines It likely would have exploded in four seconds or less. It would have been difficult for someone who didn’t see the grenade coming toward him to see it until it was on the floor.

Peralta wouldn’t have had time to think about what he was doing. He would only have had time to react. Peralta might have tried, and failed, to catch the grenade. The grenade could have hit him in the face if he had gotten in it’s path. In this case, others might have interpreted his motions as an indication he had been shot.

Based on Kaemmerer’s description of the rooms,I am wondering if the grenade could have landed where the Marines saw it unless Peralta deflected it, possibly while trying to catch it. If he had deflected it to an area with other Marines he would have felt an obligation to follow it. He would have “jumped into the room”, as Kaemmerer says, to save time. When he thought he was close enough he would have tried to dive onto the grenade to save time. This motion would have drawn the attention of the other Marines to the grenade. They would have seen him first and then the grenade and assumed the grenade arrived after he was on the floor. If his dive had left him short of the grenade, he would have had to reach for it.

Peralta could not have pulled the grenade under his body directly if he had been lying face down on the floor. He would have had to have rolled onto his side to get enough clearance so the grenade would fit under his body when he rolled back onto it. The other Marines describe him as pulling the grenade to his body which is how it would have looked to them even if he used his hand to “bat” the grenade toward his torso to save time. The time required for this maneuver would likely have meant the grenade would have exploded before he could have rolled onto it. He still could have protected those who were behind him. If the grenade exploded as it was moving the fuse might have hit his body armor with the fragments hitting another area of the body. The grenade might even have bounced off the body armor as it exploded.

As I noted above, I doubt that Peralta received the controversial head wound when he opened the door. If he had been wounded at that time he would have fallen in the doorway rather than moving into the adjoining room. It is unlikely he could have been hit in the back of the head at that time. Insurgents bullets would have hit him in the face. “Friendly fire” at point blank range would have dropped him where he stood. Insurgent fire would have been unlikely to have hit him directly once he moved away from the doorway. However, there would have remained the possibility of a ricochet off a hard wall. .

The most likely time for him to have been hit in the back of the head was after he was on the floor. One of the Marines might have fired accidentally in the confusion after seeing the grenade. [Although my duties in an army post office in Vietnam didn’t involve clearing buildings there was always the possibility that the enemy would have gotten inside the perimeter at night. In that situation I would have kept my finger on the trigger in spite of the danger of accidentally putting just enough pressure on the trigger to fire a round.] If the floor where Peralta lay was hard enough a round could have ricocheted off the floor and hit his head. The Marines probably would not have noticed the sound of a rifle fired nearly simultaneously with the explosion of the grenade. A Marine who reflexively placed a little too much pressure on the trigger might not have noticed what he had done if he had been preoccupied with the grenade.

Something strange happened that November morning in a Fallujah building. A grenade went off in a room with several Marines and only one of the them was killed. The Marines who survived said that the dead Marine. Sgt. Rafael Peralta, used his body to protect them from the grenade. A pathologist claims a head wound would have prevented Peralta from covering the grenade even though Peralta might have been wounded after he moved to cover the grenade. Unless someone can come up with an alternate explanation of why only one man died, the Pentagon should accept the explanation of the eyewitnesses and award a posthumous Congressional Medal of Honor to Sgt. Peralta.