Task & Purpose photo illustration by Matt Battaglia.

Sgt. Rafael Peralta was one of the first Marine Corps heroes of the Global War on Terror that most Marines had heard of. When I cycled through boot camp in 2008, his name was uttered along with a host of legendary Marines like Smedley Butler and Chesty Puller. Peralta’s battered rifle and body armor are part of an upcoming display at the Marine Corps Museum, and his story of sacrifice is often regarded as a testament to what it means to be a Marine. In the years since, it’s come to light that the story we were told in recruit training may not have been entirely true.

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The nearly decade-long quest to award slain Marine hero Rafael Peralta the nation’s highest battlefield honor might finally end with legendary leatherneck James Mattis.

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Task & Purpose photo by James Clark

At a back room in a plain building in Quantico, Virginia, in wall lockers and cardboard boxes stacked neatly on top are artifacts from past wars. On a table at the rear of the room sits a number of items and personal effects belonging to Marines who served in Iraq and Afghanistan. There’s a bloodstained Kevlar helmet, worn by Lt. Col. Ty Edwards, who survived a headshot in Afghanistan during an ambush in 2008, as well as a woodland blouse and a pair of dog tags belonging to Medal of Honor recipient Jason Dunham. Dunham was killed in Iraq in 2004 after he leapt atop a hand grenade, giving his life to save two other Marines.

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Courtesy Photo From Marine Corps Base Camp Lejeune

The headline jumped at me like a Bouncing Betty: “Department of Defense Planning to Let Illegal Immigrants Enlist.” The words evoke images of prison-tattooed gang members wading across the Rio Grande, sprinting from exhausted Border Patrol agents to the nearest recruiting office, exclaiming “Sign me up, pendejo!” and giving an MS-13 salute as they board the bus for Benning. The story was, on its face, too unrealistic to believe. There had to be more to it than what the headline suggested.

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A new report in the Washington Post today raises enormous new questions about a fallen Marine sergeant whose story has for nearly a decade has been at the center of controversy.

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