Full Disclosure I cover Hispanic
marketing and media as a freelance reporter for a number of trade publications,
which is why I was sent an advance copy of a History Channel en Español
documentary entitled "El Honor De Un Sacrificio" ("Act of
Honor"). I published an article and a review of the documentary in the
biweekly email newsletter, Hispanic Television Update, which I write for
Multichannel News and Broadcasting & Cable. Unfortunately, the newsletter
is not currently available online so I decided to write about the documentary
here in my blog in the hopes of telling a wider audience about the program. The
documentary will premiere on both the History Channel en Español and the
History Channel on May 19th at 7pm EST so you can watch it in either English or
Spanish. All quotes below are from the documentary unless otherwise noted.
"Act of Honor" tells the story of the death of Marine Sergeant Rafael Peralta and its impact on his family. Sergeant Peralta was killed in Fallujah. He was the first soldier to go into a house on block 412 the morning of November 15, 2004. He was shot twice almost immediately and fell to the ground. The men behind him went to one knee and began firing. The insurgents threw a grenade in the direction of the soldiers. While wounded, Peralta reached over and pulled the grenade under his chest. The grenade exploded. The sergeant sacrificed his life in order to save the other men in his platoon.
The documentary is well worth watching regardless of your views of the war in Iraq. Be forewarned, the story is gut-wrenching and you may well find yourself sobbing.
Not because there is any lurid tugging of heart strings. In fact, the best and most distinguishing characteristic of "Act of Honor" is its restraint. The tale is so very dramatic and emotional that it could easily have been overplayed.
Peralta came from a modest background. His father was a truck mechanic and his mother is a washerwoman. Sgt. Peralta, the oldest son, was born in Mexico City and raised in Tijuana. His parents sent him to attend high school in San Diego after he was beaten by members of a gang in Tijuana. They feared for his safety. Sgt. Peralta immigrated illegally to the United States as a teenager. He stayed with family friends. In high school, he was approached by a Marine recruiter who told him to get in touch once he cleared up his legal status. The morning his green card came through Rafael Peralta enlisted in the United States Marine Corps.
The documentary's one serious flaw is that you never get any insight into what prompted Sgt. Peralta's love for his adopted country and the Marine Corps. What was it that made a teenaged illegal immigrant so embrace the United States of America? Was it something he learned in a high school civics class? Was it the contrast with Tijuana? Was it something he just saw around him in San Diego? How and why did these feelings arise? It is not that his love for country and Corps are hard to believe. Not at all. Not in the slightest. It just would have been nice to have had a sense of what motivated that love. And of what went went through his mind when he sang the words "From the halls of Montezuma" In the case of, say, Cuban exiles in Miami a strong degree of patriotism for their second homeland develops for obvious reasons. Again, though, why did this illegal immigrant from Tijuana so desperately desire to join the Marine Corps?
Whatever the motivation, it is a desire he passed on to his 16 year old brother, Ricardo Peralta. Ricardo's determination to join the Corps provides a second compelling storyline. Mrs. Peralta told me she half-seriously threatens Ricardo "I'll kill you here before letting you get killed over there" (I used this quote in the newsletter article.)
She doesn't mean it, of course. And she is quick to recognize he will soon be able to enlist on his own. She sent him and his younger sister to a Devil Pups camp hoping to turn them off to a military career. At the end of the camp, an unnamed Marine shakes Ricardo's hand. The Marine tells Ricardo "Good job, proud of you. You did it for yourself, right". Ricardo responds, "no, sir". The Marine insists one more time and is met with the same response. The Marine tells him "I am proud of you, you understand".
Ricardo's motivation for joining the Marines is clear. "While I was at his wake I promised him I'm going to do this for you" he said. Ricardo told a couple of Peralta's fellow platoon members during a visit arranged by the History Channel "I just feel I have to do something."
That the visit was arranged by the cable network was something that Mrs. Peralta mentioned to me during a telephone interview but is not mentioned in the documentary. And it should have been. They should have also disclosed before the credit roll that footage shot by Joint Combat Camera teams was used in the documentary.
These are not minor quibbles but overall "Act of Honor" is well told.
Near the end of the program, Rosa Peralta, tells her visitors "the only thing I ask is that you remember him always." And then she begins to cry.
You never see her youngest son Ricardo shed a tear. Not even in the closing scene when he reads aloud the last letter from his brother.
"I am proud to be a Marine, a U.S. Marine. And to defend and protect the freedom and Constitution of America" Peralta wrote. Later, he added "If anything happens to me just remember I already lived my life to the fullest and I am happy with what I lived ... Don't feel sad. Don't feel lonely."