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
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
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
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.