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Face of Defense: Marine Rescues 4 People From Rip Current in Okinawa

CAMP SCHWAB, OKINAWA, Japan, Jan. 18, 2018 — A Marine received the nation’s highest medal for non-combat heroism during a ceremony here, Jan. 8.

Marine Corps 1st Lt. Aaron Cranford, a supply officer with Headquarters and Service Company, 3rd Reconnaissance Battalion, 3rd Marine Division, was awarded the Navy and Marine Corps Medal for saving four divers, including a local Okinawan, who were caught in a rip current during a recreational dive at Onna Point, Okinawa, Japan, on April 23, 2017.

Distressed Divers

Cranford surfaced from a 35-minute dive and noticed three distressed divers caught in a surf zone about to be swept out to sea by a rip current.

After he ensured his dive group had reached a safe point to exit the water, Cranford returned to the surf zone at risk to his own life to begin rescuing the divers one by one.

“I could definitely tell that the divers were in distress,” said Cranford, a native of Fort Worth, Texas. “Their gear was not the way it should have been and they were waving their arms back and forth trying to get people’s attention.”

One local Okinawan said he believes he wouldn’t be alive today without Cranford’s help.

‘I Knew I Was Going to Die’

“I just knew I was going to die,” said Okinawa City native, Justin Kinjo. “My leg was stuck. I couldn’t get any air, and as soon as I reached the surface the waves pushed me back in — knocking my [air] regulator out of my mouth.”

For his courageous actions, Commandant of the Marine Corps Gen. Robert B. Neller awarded Cranford the highest non-combat decoration for heroism.

“1st Lt. Cranford is a superb representative of the United States Marine Corps,” said Marine Corps Maj. Gen. Craig Q. Timberlake, the 3rd Marine Division’s commanding general.

Cranford’s actions “took a lot of guts and a lot of courage,” Timberlake added. “He reflects a United States Marine doing what a United States Marine does.”