The Marine Corps Times reported earlier today new forensic evidence may sway the Pentagon to look into the valor case of Marine Sgt. Rafael Peralta who was killed in the Battle of Fallujah, Iraq in 2004. He was awarded the Navy Cross, one level lower than the Medal of Honor which many of the eyewitnesses say he deserves.
The story went on to give some background on Peralta, saying he was “born and raised in San Diego … .”
I’ve been following this case ever since he was posthumously awarded the Navy Cross in 2008. And here’s the error: Peralta was born in Mexico City, and somehow as a teenager, ended up in Chula Vista, Calif., a suburb of San Diego.
I was able to contact a West Coast Marine Corps Times reporter to let them know of the error, because the East Coast reporter who wrote the story had already left for the day.
The reply was, I was correct, and they would make the change to their online story. They did so shortly after my contact.
But, these are simple errors the reporter, an editor and a copy editor should have caught before it went online. Within minutes, the story with the error was on Facebook, being tweeted, and discussed on military blogs.
What is disappointing is the city of birth is on the official Marine Corps records and, since at least 2008, has been on several Marine Corps Times and its sister publications with Mexico City as his birthplace. It was a simple look up, and at least two people who should know better, missed it.
A reporter’s job is to write using facts, not guess what they may be. If you put something in the story that is quantifiable and can be verified, then you do just that, otherwise it’s not a fact. Do not say a person was “born and raised”, or “was a lifelong resident” unless you’ve checked, especially a high-profile subject.
Along with checking grammar, sentences ending, items that may be potentially libelous, quotations attributed, etc., the copy editor’s job — if indeed they exist in the “chain of custody” for this story — is to double-check each fact in the story: Was he in the Marine Corps? Check. Was he a sergeant? Check. Was he at the Battle of Fallujah? Check. Was he killed during the battle? Check. Was he born in San Diego? ???
Why am I harping on a seemingly minor error?
First, in the true copy editor’s world, all errors are a big deal. Copy editors are the last line of defense on a story’s completeness and accuracy.
Second, this case has an interesting twist that a lot of people, including his family, are dancing around. Did Peralta enter the country illegally?
News reports say he lived in the city of Chula Vista, so why did he go to a San Diego Unified School District high school? Having covered San Diego education, I’m familiar with this tactic to move football players to the right teams, to keep authorities guessing on district residency, etc.
Other news reports, say his recruiter worked with Peralta to get his Green Card so he could join the Marine Corps. Why then is no one asking when did Peralta arrive in the U.S.? Where is his visa? We can document every notable immigrant service person when they arrived in the U.S., but not one story has been written about Peralta’s date of entry.
The issue then becomes, was Peralta really denied the Medal of Honor when they were investigating this from 2004 to 2008 because, at one point, in his life, he may have been an illegal immigrant?
In these times when immigrants have become the whipping boy for politicians, county sheriffs and vigilantes, does denying what may have rightfully earned become a political consideration rather than one of valor on the battlefield?
There is a lot more to be discovered regarding Peralta. I’m hoping the case is reopened, and if a Marine should have been awarded the Medal of Honor, then he must be awarded it, regardless of the immigration status at anytime in his life.
As a side note: I’ve written about this before — mostly in Latino publications. But we already have had at least one Medal of Honor recipient who was an illegal immigrant, Army Sgt. Albert Rascon served during the Vietnam War. He too immigrated from Mexico as a young boy, went to high school in the U.S. and then joined the Army. At the time of his heroism in combat, he was an illegal immigrant.