CHULA VISTA, California – With family members in the audience, Southwestern College dedicated a permanent tribute to fallen Marine and Navy Cross recipient Sgt. Rafael Peralta during a special ceremony last week in honor of Veterans’ Day.
The new Sgt. Rafael Peralta Garden of Honor includes the Walk of Honor, which consists of bricks engraved with the names of local veterans. Located outside the Southwestern College Veterans’ Resource Center, the brick walkway and flag garden is attended to by student veterans. Each morning, the student veterans place the American flag, the POW flag and a flag for each branch of the military in the garden.
The ceremony, held during Veterans’ Day week, brought together members of the Southwestern College Student Veterans Organization, local elected officials, employees who staff the Veterans’ Resource Center and Veterans’ Services, as well as faculty, staff and students to honor Peralta.
In addressing those in attendance, Governing Board President Tim Nader said the celebration was a fitting reminder of the sacrifices made by our veterans and their families.
“This garden is a reminder of the best of our country and all it can be,” Nader said. “It also is a reminder that we all should be working every day to make our country all that it can be.”
The Walk of Honor is two walkways of engraved bricks honoring veterans and it flanks Veterans Hill and the Flag Garden. Now a new plaque with the following inscription anchors the Flag Garden:
“Without hesitation and with complete disregard for his own personal safety, Sgt. Peralta reached out and pulled the grenade to his body, absorbing the brunt of the blast and shielding fellow Marines only feet away. Sgt. Peralta succumbed to his wounds. By his undaunted courage, intrepid fighting spirit, and unwavering devotion to duty, Sgt. Peralta reflected great credit upon himself and upheld the highest traditions of the Marine Corps and the United States Naval Service.”
Jim Jones, a Marine veteran and former Southwestern College Veterans’ Services employee, had advocated for several years for Southwestern College to honor Sgt. Peralta in some way.
“Something about this garden is special to me,” Jones said. “Not because Peralta was a Marine, but because he’s a Jaguar.”
Peralta’s mother, Rosa, attended the ceremony with her daughters, granddaughters and family friends. She moved members of the audience to tears as she thanked the college for remembering her son.
“I will never get over the death of my son,” Rosa Peralta said. “Any mother who has lost a child understands that.
“But he will never be forgotten because of this garden,” she said. “Some of you may think this garden is a small thing, but for me, it is everything.”
San Diego native Peralta attended the Southwestern College Police Academy in 2002. He was killed in action on Nov. 15, 2004 in Fallujah, Iraq, after pulling a grenade to his body, saving his fellow Marines. In 2012, the U.S. Navy named a destroyer after Peralta.