An Iraq War veteran in Congress submitted new evidence to the Pentagon he says proves a Marine officer killed in Fallujah, Iraq, deserves to have his Silver Star upgraded to a Navy Cross.
Rep. Duncan Hunter, R-Calif., sent a letter to Defense Secretary Jim Mattis urging him to reconsider the decoration issued to Marine 1st Lt. Travis Manion after he "saved the life of every Marine and sailor under his command."
Manion, a logistics officer, posthumously received the Silver Star for his actions during the April 2007 firefight that took his life, but was originally nominated for the Navy Cross. His award was later downgraded "by Pentagon officials who were not witness to [Manion's] valiant behavior," Hunter wrote.
Now new evidence from a Marine who was on the ground with Manion in Fallujah that day "removes any doubt," Hunter said, that those in the field had it right.
"The Silver Star is a big deal," he told Military.com. "But I think if new information and evidence comes to light, which we think did, and it could get upgraded to a Navy Cross, then this would call attention again to his heroic actions -- how he fought, how he died and his family's sacrifice."
Manion and his men were ambushed while searching a suspected insurgent house in Iraq. His corpsman was shot in the abdomen, and Manion and another lieutenant went into the fray to drag him to safety.
As the firefight got more intense, Manion fired a grenade and then began laying down heavy suppressive fire from his M4, according to former Staff Sgt. Paul Petty's account, which was also sent to Mattis.
Running low on ammunition, Manion requested more and began distributing magazines to his other Marines. As he handed one over, he was mortally wounded, but not before he'd fired off up to 300 rounds at the enemy's location, Petty wrote.
"His well-aimed precision fire, decisive leadership and selfless action aided in the preservation of life and helped counter the ambush," Petty's account states.
Ryan Manion, the Marine's sister, said her family is incredibly proud of his actions that day.
"We weren't surprised of the circumstances because we knew he was the type of individual who was the first one in and the last one out," she said. "There's a sense of pride, if that's the right word, in how he lived and, ultimately, how he died because he was protecting his men."
Manion, the son of a career Marine officer, was too humble to care about something like a medal upgrade, Ryan Manion said. But seeing him get the recognition he deserves is important to his family, she added.
"He wasn't out there that day doing the things that he did because of the possibility of him receiving an award from the Marine Corps," she said. "I think it's more for us, the living, than for him. And for the future Marines who hear his story of bravery."
Hunter, a former infantry officer who served in Fallujah in 2004, said wearing the same uniform as someone like Manion is "the most awesome thing in the world."
The congressman has a history of pushing Pentagon leaders to reconsider valor awards from Iraq and Afghanistan that were later downgraded. He waged a years-long campaign to upgrade Marine Sgt. Rafael Peralta’s posthumous Navy Cross to the Medal of Honor, saying Peralta had sacrificed his life to save fellow Marines by falling on an enemy grenade in Fallujah in 2004.
Peralta never received the Medal of Honor, but Hunter’s efforts prompted multiple defense secretaries to review materials pertaining to the Marine’s heroism.
"These awards were mostly all approved on the battlefield ... then downgraded once they got back here to D.C.," Hunter said. "That's what happened with Manion."
The Defense Department did not respond to questions about whether Mattis has received Hunter's letter or whether he plans to review the award for possible upgrade.
The Pentagon is currently undergoing a years-long medals review. Hunter said it's not clear whether Manion's is one of them, and officials require new evidence for any award to get another look.
Petty's account provides that, Hunter said, since it was not previously known that Manion remained in such a precarious position despite knowing he was running out of ammunition.
Ryan Manion, who runs a foundation in her brother's name to encourage more young people to consider community or military service, said she's grateful for Hunter's efforts.
"I hope people continue to hear [my brother's] story and that his legacy is one that shows the ultimate example of ... what it means to serve and sacrifice," she said.