Lance Cpl. Dakota Jackson and Cpls. Jeffrey Werner and Tim Brownduag were at Mermaid's Grotto on the eastern side of Okinawa on July 14 when they noticed two people bobbing in the waves, which reached up to six feet high that day.
Without regard to their own safety, the three members of 3rd Marine Division's Communications Company, Headquarters Battalion, rushed into the water to help.
The pair in distress were U.S. airmen, and they were stuck in a riptide. The currents, which can pull even the strongest swimmers out to sea, are common at the cave-filled beach. Before the Marines could pull the airmen to safety, they too were caught in its grip.
"It was the strongest thing I've ever felt in my life," Werner said in a news release about the rescue effort. He fell back on his training and began swimming sideways, parallel with the shoreline.
It took Werner 40 minutes to make it back to shore, but the four other troops were still in the water. He got help from a Japanese man on the beach, and they called emergency responders. By the time he got off the line, Jackson had made it back to shore, but Brownduag and the two airmen were still stuck in the riptide.
Werner went back into the water, as did the Japanese man who'd assisted with the phone call. Within minutes, that man began struggling, so Werner swam over to him and pulled him back to shore.
Brownduag, the third Marine, made it to land soon after, according to the rescue details in the release. After fighting to get ashore for an hour, he needed medical treatment. And the airmen were still out there.
Japanese coast guard air support was able to reach them, and the two were taken to their base in Naha. Brownduag was transported by ambulance to a Navy hospital, where he was treated for muscle fatigue.
"These Marines were presented with a choice: Stand on the beach and hope, or take action," said Sgt. Maj. Spencer Scott, the three Marines' top enlisted leader. "... Using teamwork and communication, these Marines quickly developed and performed a selfless act, resulting in the best possible outcome.
"They perfectly ... proved that Marines are always faithful," he added.
Just a month prior, four members of Marine Wing Headquarters Squadron 1 were swept out to sea at the same location. Three were able to swim back to shore, and one was rescued by the Japanese coast guard.
The Marines' commanding officer and sergeant major presented the Japanese coasties with a plaque of appreciation earlier this month.