ST. GEORGE — Regardless of whether Eric Spendlove was an introvert or an adventurous soul — words his family used to describe him — one thing is certain: Family always came first. His wife Chelsea and their four children, his extended family and his military family.

Eric Spendlove attended medical school at the University of Pikeville in Kentucky before embarking on his career in the Air Force, date and location not specified | Photo courtesy of Tyler Murset, St. George News

Just days after Spendlove’s St. George family learned from the U.S. Air Force that the 2005 Dixie High School graduate was one of eight airmen to die in a CV-22 Osprey mishap off the coast of Japan, Tyler Murset described his brother-in-law in simple and succinct terms.

“He was kind of a hometown boy,” Murset said. “He always liked to keep to himself.”

Spendlove, 36, was born in California and also lived in Nevada before the family settled in St. George when he was 13. After high school, he majored in biology at Utah Tech University (then-Dixie State) where he also was an adjunct instructor and where, perhaps more importantly, he met his eventual wife Chelsea.

“The first time he laid eyes on her, it was over,” Murset said. “We knew that they were meant to be.”

Spendlove went to medical school at the University of Pikeville in Kentucky, the Air Force paying for three of his four years and Spendlove committing to military service in return.

“He was willing to serve his country and was looking to offset some of his medical school expenses,” Murset said. “Eric was a family man. A man of faith. A man of God. A  man of his country. Everything he did was for the benefit of his family and his country.”

His military obligation began in Kentucky, and then it was off to air force bases in Florida, Illinois and Washington.

Then 18 months ago, there came another calling: the Special Forces.

“He was so excited. He couldn’t wait to get out there,” said Murset of orders that would require Spendlove to serve as flight surgeon and medical operations flight commander assigned to the 1st Special Operations Squadron, 353rd Special Operations Wing, Kadena Air Base, Japan.

And his wife Chelsea and their children would be joining him.

Spendlove and his family were in Japan for about 18 months before the tragic events of Nov. 29. But during that time, Murset said his brother-in-law — “the adventurous soul” — passionately fulfilled his military duties.

“They would fly all around the world,” he said. “He had a very small crew. He was a leader of the crew … a major … the flight surgeon on these missions they would do.”

Eric Spendlove reached the rank of major and was the flight surgeon for the CV-22 Osprey with the 1st Special Operations Squadron, 353rd Special Operations Wing, date and location not specified | Photo courtesy of Tyler Murset, St. George News

A sense of honor

On an Oct. 14 flight from Singapore to the base in Japan, Spendlove sent an introspective text to his mother Roxanne Spendlove.

“I almost think he knew that something was going to happen to him,” Murset said, or perhaps he was expressing the essence of his calling — a duty he felt bound to fulfill.

It read as follows:

“In the old times, people lived with a sense of purpose and passion knowing that tomorrow was not guaranteed. Has that changed? No absolutely not, however our perception has! We live as though we are entitled to tomorrow. We waste so much time worrying about meaningless endeavors and being socially relevant that we let our lives pass by. I want to start living like they used to live. With no fear of failure.

“With no concern for what the world will think. I want to love with more passion. I want to be the teacher and provider and protector of my children. The warrior to protect and defend my precious bride at all costs. Enjoying every day. Enjoying every breath. Knowing that tomorrow is not promised!”

The search continues

U.S. and Japanese military search personnel combined forces in the days following the Nov. 29 crash, which occurred during a routine training exercise. But that effort has since shifted from search and rescue to search and recovery, the Air Force said Tuesday.

“The recovery operation will now focus on locating and recovering all remains and aircraft debris. Of the eight airmen, the remains of three airmen have been recovered and the remains of another three airmen have been located and are in the process of being recovered. The remains of two airmen are still being located.”

And this further adds to the challenges Spendlove’s family and friends already are facing. It is not known if his remains are among the three recovered, the three located and in the process of being recovered or one of the two that have not been located.

The Air Force said in a news release that Staff Sgt. Jake Galliher’s remains were recovered Nov. 29, and the status of the seven remaining airmen transitioned from duty status-whereabouts unknown to deceased status and all families were notified.

The other six crew members, all of whom were assigned to the squadron, include the following :

Maj. Jeffrey T. Hoernemann, 32, of Andover, Minnesota, CV-22 instructor pilot and officer in charge of training.
Maj. Luke A. Unrath, 34, of Riverside, California, CV-22 pilot and flight commander.
Capt. Terrell K. Brayman, 32, of Pittsford, New York, CV-22 pilot and flight commander.
Tech. Sgt. Zachary E. Lavoy, 33, of Oviedo, Florida, medical operations flight chief.
Staff Sgt. Jake M. Turnage, 25, of Kennesaw, Georgia, flight engineer.
Senior Airman Brian K. Johnson, 32, of Reynoldsburg, Ohio, flight engineer.

“He had the time of his life,” Murset said. “And just the excitement of going out and serving and being there for his crew, some of whom are his best friends. Other than his wife, these guys were his boys. It’s very tragic — not only is Eric gone, but so are seven others. He loved those guys.”

Pictured are the families of Tyler Murset (taking selfie, at right) and Eric Spendlove (white T-shirt), date and location not specified | Photo courtesy of Travis Murset, St. George News

Love at home and abroad

The “above and beyond” support has been overwhelming, Murset said, and has come from the Air Force, church brothers and sisters both in Japan and locally and friends and family near and far.

And since the family will be facing various challenges in the days, weeks and months ahead, a fundraising page has been set up at Give Send Go called “Support the Eric Spendlove Family.”

In the very near future, Chelsea and the children — Ara, 13; Abigail, 6; Adaline, 4; and Aerik, 1 —  will be coming back to St. George to live with Murset, his wife Monica and their family. Upon their return, their hope is the community will rally around them as they face the challenges that will confront them.

And as the search and recovery efforts continue in the waters off the coast of Japan, the family maintains hope their champion airmen’s remains, if they haven’t already been located, will be secured. It will bring them more than just the closure they seek.

Should recovery efforts prove successful, Spendlove likely would be cremated.

“Chelsea would like to have him wherever she goes,” Murset said.

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