Sailors jog to gangways to “man the ship and bring her to life” in a Navy tradition. Photo by Chris Jennewein

A guided-missile destroyer named for a Mexican immigrant who became as Marine hero entered service Saturday in a solemn commissioning ceremony at North Island.

The USS Rafael Peralta, a 509-foot Arleigh Burke-class destroyer, is named for a San Diego resident who entered the Marines after graduating from Morse High School and died saving his squad during the Second Battle of Fallujah.

“This is more than just another commissioning. It marks the commemoration of a life,” said Marine Corps Commandant Robert B. Neller. “All he ever wanted to be was an American, to serve his country.”

A crowd of 2,400 people lined the pier in front of the new warship and heard members of Congress and the commander of the Pacific Fleet honor the memory of Peralta, who is buried across the bay in Fort Rosecrans National Cemetery.

Sgt. Rafael Peralta. Marine Corps photo

“His life was a statement to the world of what the United States is all about,” said Rep. Darrell Issa. “He was not an American by birth, but an American by choice.”

Rep. Scott Peters said Peralta’s sacrifice in the largest battle of the Iraq war was emblematic of Marine heroism.

“Sgt. Peralta is a national hero and a son of San Diego,” said Peters. “He loved his country and ultimately gave his life for it. I hope in some way that the Peralta family will take comfort in this honor.”

Peralta received the Navy Cross for his heroism, and Rep. Duncan Hunter is seeking the posthumous award of the Congressional Medal of Honor. Hunter’s father spoke at the ceremony and promised his son would work to secure the medal.

San Diego Mayor Kevin Faulconer said the military is an essential part of San Diego, and Peralta’s story is an inspiration to everyone in the city.

“He was born in Mexico City, but called San Diego home,” Faulconer said. “This is a fitting honor for a man who made the ultimate sacrifice.”

Peralta’s mother, Rosa, gave the traditional command to “man the ship and bring her to life,” and the crew of 300 rushed up the gangways and lined the rails. Two Marine V-22 Ospreys then flew over the ship in a salute.

The Peralta is the 64th Arleigh-Burke class guided-missile destroyer in the Navy. It’s armed with 96 guided missiles in vertical launch tubes, a 5-inch gun, torpedoes, anti-aircraft guns and two helicopters.

The ship’s advanced Aegis radar can track ballistic missiles, and in a reference to North Korea, Commanding Officer Brian Ribota noted that the destroyer’s mission could one day include “shooting down the missiles of a rotund man-child with anger-management issues.”

Sailors line a gangway to the USS Rafael Peralta. Photo by Chris Jennewein

Chris Jennewein

Chris Jennewein is Editor & Publisher of Times of San Diego.