By Laura Kebede
Copyright 2014 Richmond Times-Dispatch, Va.
RICHMOND, Va. — Almost 10 years after a Marine’s heroic death during some of the Iraq war’s heaviest fighting, a Glen Allen Marine veteran continues to hope the death will be recognized with a Medal of Honor.
William Berry, a longtime Henrico resident who served in the Iraq war, wrote a letter from jail that brought the fallen Marine’s rifle home to be put on display at the National Museum of the Marine Corps.
Berry served as an armorer in Kuwait, Iraq and Japan after joining the Marines in 2003, making sure weapons were fully functioning and ready to go at a moment’s notice.
Occasionally, Berry cleaned weapons of Marines who died in battle, and one in particular stood out — the rifle of Navy Cross recipient Sgt. Rafael Peralta.
Berry had known Peralta, though not well. They were in the same company and briefly served together in Fallujah, Iraq.
“We lost a lot of good people out there,” Berry said.
Berry and another Marine, then-Cpl. Jason Waller, spent two hours at the Marine base in Okinawa, Japan, cleaning blood and shrapnel off the M-16 rifle, damaged from the 2004 grenade explosion in Fallujah that killed Peralta.
The rifle was headed to the National Museum of the Marine Corps for a display to honor Peralta, who covered a live grenade with his body to shield fellow Marines.
“He cared about his Marines. His Marines came first. His Marines ate before he ate,” Waller said. “We went the extra mile on his rifle to look presentable as he was as a Marine.”
The battles in Fallujah have been thrust again into the national spotlight following the recent retaking of the city by al-Qaeda-linked militants.
Months after the first battle of Fallujah, U.S. troops and Iraqi forces descended on the city about 45 miles west of Baghdad to regain control, making door-to-door searches to clear the area of insurgents.
Peralta, a Mexican immigrant who enlisted the same day he received his Green Card in 2000, led a door-to-door search on Nov. 15, 2004, and came under fire upon entering the squad’s seventh house of the day.
Peralta, 25, was shot and fell to the ground. After an exchange of fire, insurgents fled the house, throwing a grenade behind them that landed near Peralta’s head.
“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,” his award citation reads.