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Saturday, October 31, 2015

Navy ship christening named for immigrant in Bath Maine

The USS Rafael was christened on Saturday. The Navy warship was named in honor of Marine Rafael Peralta, who died in Iraq. NPR's Scott Simon speaks with the Marine's brother, Sgt. Ricardo Peralta.

Rafael Peralta USMC

Americans are largely unaware about the number of immigrants who are defending our nation in the US military.

Today, October 31, a naval ship was christened in Bath Maine, at the Bath Iron Works, named after one of these brave immigrants. 

We learned about this important ship christening while lsitening to Scott Simon's "Weekend Edition" on National Public Radio. Unfortunately, to our knowledge, jusa a few of the Maine media covered this local story. Thank you NPR Scott Simon!

SCOTT SIMON, HOST:  The U.S. Navy has named ships after cities - the USS San Diego and Chicago, states, the Alabama and the Texas, presidents, the Lincoln, the Roosevelt, the Reagan, and battles, the Iwo Jima, the Antietam. Now and then, they name warships after fallen warriors. The USS Rafael Peralta will be christened today at the Bath Iron Works in Maine. Sgt. Peralta, was killed 11 years ago in Iraq when he threw himself onto a grenade to protect his fellow soldiers. 
Ricardo Peralta is his brother, and he joins us now from Maine. Thanks very much for being with us.
RICARDO PERALTA: I'm honored to be here, sir. Thank you.

SIMON: What can you tell us about your brother? Why did he join the Marines?

PERALTA: I was in the - around second grade. I witnessed him, his excitement. He wanted to be a part of something greater than him. He would watch the - I remember seeing the Marine Corps commercials and him, you know, being in high school getting excited. His pride in being in a Marine just - that's all he wanted to do. And in the letter, he tells me that if anything did happen to him that he already lived his life to the fullest, and he's happy with what he lived.

SIMON: This is a letter he sent you.

PERALTA: Yes, sir. Since I got the word of him being killed in action, I received a letter. And those words where he states that if anything did happen that he was happy with what he lived is what's kept me at ease throughout the years, just knowing that at the end, he died doing what he wanted to do and that was to fight for his country as an infantry rifleman.

SIMON: Mr. Peralta, what happened the day your brother died?

PERALTA: The day my brother died, he volunteered to go out there with another squad, and they got to a room where ultimately he was shot and wounded, and he was just laying in between the insurgents and the Marines. You know, the insurgents threw a yellow grenade that rolled over towards my brother's perimeter where he grabbed the grenade, cradled it. My brother absorbed the blast, and that ultimately was the end of him. He saved the lives of his fellow Marines, and I'm actually fortunate enough to meet, again, Cpl. Robert Reynolds. He's actually attending the ceremony. I can call him my brother because going through something like that, all you have is nothing but respect. And I stayed in touch with the other Marines that my brother saved. They've remained honorable men. I mean, my brother did not die in vain at all. Those men, they deserve another shot at life.

SIMON: Your family's from Mexico City, right?

PERALTA: Yes, sir. I was the only one born here.

SIMON: But your brother was born in Mexico City, right?

PERALTA: Yes, sir.

SIMON: And he loved America.

PERALTA: I have a quote here from the letter where he says, I'm proud to be a Marine, a U.S. Marine, and to defend and protect the freedom and constitution of America. You should be proud of being an American citizen. After all, our dad came to this country and became a citizen. He was proud of his Mexican heritage. He was proud of where he came from as much as he was proud to be an American citizen. He was just the ultimate American. There's nothing more American than to volunteer, fight for your country, and give your life for your men. There's nothing more American than that.

SIMON: What's it mean to have a ship named after your brother?

PERALTA: For me, this christening ceremony, the USS Rafael Peralta, I feel like it holds the spirit of what my brother fought for, that fighting spirit. The courage until the end is the ship's motto, and, I mean, my brother defines that. I've never been able to compare my brother's letter to a certain thing, and the USS Rafael Peralta is that. In his letter, he states that, be proud of me, bro. I'm going to make history. Those were his words. And I felt for the first time that the USS Rafael Peralta is that history that he's talking about.

SIMON: Mr. Peralta, thank you for your service and your family.

PERALTA: Yes, sir. Thank you.

Marine Times:
Warship honoring Marine Rafael Peralta christened at Maine shipyard

First in English, then in Spanish, the mother of a fallen Marine who shielded his comrades from an insurgent's grenade christened a new Navy destroyer in his honor.

The mother of Sgt. Rafael Peralta asked God to bless the ship named for her son and keep the crew safe before smashing a bottle of Champagne on the ship's bow Saturday.

The ceremony to christen the future USS Rafael Peralta paid homage to the slain Marine, who gave the ultimate sacrifice in service of a country to which he emigrated as a boy.

Peralta, who pulled a grenade against his body to protect his fellow Marines during close combat with insurgents in Fallujah, Iraq, on Nov. 15, 2004, is believed to be the first serviceman born in Mexico to have a naval warship named in his honor.

"He believed more about the goodness of America than most Americans, to the point of fighting and sacrificing everything for what America stands for," Gen. Robert Neller, the Marine Corps commandant, said as he quoted from Peralta's former commanding officer from the 1st Battalion, 3rd Marines, the Hawaii-based "Lava Dogs."

Peralta came to the U.S. with his family, attended high school in San Diego, then enlisted on the day he received his green card. He hung only three things on his wall: the Constitution, the Bill of Rights, and his Marine boot camp graduation certificate.

Among Marines, Peralta is well known for his heroism.

The sergeant was nominated for the Medal of Honor — the nation's highest military honor — after fellow Marines said he covered a grenade after being shot and wounded during close-quarters combat. The defense secretary at the time ultimately rejected that honor because of questions over whether the mortally wounded Marine was conscious at the time.

Peralta's family, which has no doubt about his valor, said the naming of the 510-foot guided-missile destroyer in the fallen Marine's honor has eased some of the bitterness.

The Arleigh Burke-class destroyer is one of a handful of Navy ships to be named for Mexican-Americans.

The USS Gonzalez bears the name of Master Sgt. Alfredo Cantu Gonzalez, a Marine who was posthumously awarded the Medal of Honor for his actions in Vietnam. 

The cargo ship USNS Benavidez is named for another Medal of Honor recipient, Raul Perez Benavidez. 

There's also a ship named for labor activist Cesar Chavez, a Navy veteran who died in 1993.

Unfortunately, I don't know of any Maine media that reported on this important and poignant story. WCSH - WGME- Portland Press Herald and Bangor Daily News were absent.

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