Weiser man wins 'Marine Aviator of the Year'

Credit: U.S. Marine Corps

Major Eric Grunke

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by Justin Corr

Bio | Email | Follow: @JCorrKTVB

KTVB.COM

Posted on April 27, 2012 at 6:11 PM

Updated Friday, Apr 27 at 11:05 PM

WEISER -- Every day, Idahoans are serving in the military around the world, doing their country and their state proud. Just recently, one Idahoan did his state especially proud, earning the honor of being named the 'Marine Aviator of the Year.'

Weiser's Jim Grunke, a retired naval commander, is very proud of his son, Eric.

"I never had to say a cross word to him, ever," said Jim. "He was, in my eyes, almost a perfect kid."

Eric loved helping his dad in his military restoration shop growing up, and after graduating from the College of Idaho, he joined the Marines.

"He was really a neat kid to raise and he helped me out here all the time," said Jim.

His pride swelled even more after a recent mission flown by now Major Eric Grunke in Libya in March of 2011.

"All bets are off when one of our own goes down," said Major Grunke in a phone interview. "We're going to take every opportunity to get in there and to get him out."

Major Grunke led a rescue mission for a downed Air Force pilot who was being pursued by hostiles.

"He comes up on the radio before I'm releasing, and with obvious emotion and crying he says, 'Tell my wife I love her.' And I thought, I'm not going to let anything happen to this guy," said Major Grunke.

The major kept in contact with the pilot, dropped two bombs on vehicles pursuing him, and found a landing zone for the rescue vehicle to get him out.

"(It) led to a very happy ending there at the ship, where we were able to shake hands with the pilot and welcome him aboard," said Major Grunke.

His efforts earned him the honor of 'Marine Aviator of the Year', one more reason for Jim to be proud.

"I think he can accomplish most anything," said Jim.

The Marine Aviator of the Year Award is prestigious, going to the one Marine every year, who makes the biggest contribution to Marine aviation. The award also honors all the behind-the-scenes advisor work the major did in liberating the Libyan people from Moammar Gadhafi's regime. Major Grunke, despite the accolades, remains humble, saying the credit goes to everyone who worked on that mission.

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