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Marine awarded for courageously rescuing four people from riptide

A Marine was awarded the nation's highest medal for non-combat heroism during a ceremony on Camp Schwab, Okinawa, Japan, Jan. 8, 2018, for courageous actions off duty.


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 three divers and a local Okinawan who were caught in a rip current during a recreational dive at Onna Point, Okinawa, Japan on April 23, 2017.

1st Lt. Aaron Cranford (left) speaks in an interview with Justin Kinjo and Yusuke Teruya, divers who almost lost their lives at the hands of a rip current, after the he receives the Navy and Marine Corps Medal. (Image Lance Cpl. Josue Marquez)

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.

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"I just knew I was going to die," said Okinawa City, Okinawa 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 Maj. Gen. Craig Q. Timberlake, the commanding general for 3rd Marine Division. "His actions took a lot of guts and a lot of courage. He reflects a United States Marine doing what a United States Marine does."