Air Force awards posthumous medals to Japan-based airmen lost in Osprey crash
Stars and Stripes December 8, 2023
The U.S. Air Force has bestowed posthumous awards upon each of the eight airmen who died Nov. 29 when their CV-22B Osprey crashed off Japan’s southwestern coast.
The tiltrotor — assigned to the 353rd Special Operations Wing at Yokota Air Base in western Tokyo — went down near Yakushima, an island in Kagoshima prefecture.
In recognition of their service, the Air Force announced Wednesday that all eight have been awarded the Air Medal. Five also received the Meritorious Service Medal and three were awarded the Air and Space Commendation Medal.
The Air Medal recognizes “single acts of heroism or meritorious achievements while participating in aerial flight,” according to the Air Force’s Personnel Center’s website.
The Meritorious Service Medal is awarded for “outstanding achievement or meritorious service” to the United States and is considered a counterpart to the Bronze Star Medal.
The Air and Space Commendation Medal also recognizes meritorious service, but specifically for the Air Force.
The body of Staff Sgt. Jake Galliher, 24, a linguist from Pittsfield, Mass., was recovered the day of the crash. He was awarded the Air Medal and an Air and Space Commendation Medal with one oak leaf cluster.
Maj. Luke Unrath, 34, a CV-22 pilot and flight commander from Riverside, Calif., and Tech. Sgt. Zachary Lavoy, 33, a medical operations flight chief from Oviedo, Fla., were recovered Dec. 4. Both received the Air Medal and the Meritorious Service Medal.
Capt. Terrell Brayman, 32; Staff Sgt. Jake Turnage, 25; and Senior Airman Brian Johnson, 32, were recovered Dec. 5.
Brayman, a CV-22 pilot and flight commander from Pittsford, N.Y., received the Meritorious Service Medal and an Air Medal with a combat device and five oak leaf clusters.
Turnage, a flight engineer from Kennesaw, Ga., and Johnson, a flight engineer from Reynoldsburg, Ohio, both received an Air Medal and the Air and Space Commendation Medal.
U.S. and Japanese dive teams were still searching for the remains of Maj. Jeffrey Hoernemann, 32, and Maj. Eric Spendlove, 36, on Friday.
Hoernemann, a CV-22 instructor pilot and officer in charge of training from Andover, Minn., received the Meritorious Service Medal and an Air Medal with a combat device and one oak leaf cluster.
Spendlove, a flight surgeon and medical operations commander from St. George, Utah, received the Air Medal and the Meritorious Service Medal.
The Air Force, Marine Corps and Navy grounded all Ospreys on Wednesday after a preliminary investigation indicated that a material failure led to the airmen’s deaths.
“The investigation remains active and the underlying cause of the incident has yet to be determined,” U.S. Forces Japan said in a statement Friday. “The standdown of Osprey operations is to re-verify risk mitigation controls and safety of the aircraft in light of this preliminary investigation, and routine flight operations will resume when this condition is met.”
It’s unclear how long the standdown will last, according to the command.
“The whole of USFJ will continue our mission to contribute to the security of Japan and maintenance of international peace and security while this standdown is in effect,” the statement said.