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A Naval Ship Christening In The Name Of A Fallen War Hero

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. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.