Vester O. Lowe
Biography: Vester Oran Lowe was born on July 31, 1917, in Sarasota, Florida. He was the son of Fleming Stanley Lowe and attended local schools through the 11th grade. His enlistment record indicates that he worked as a carpenter prior to the war.
Service Time: Vester entered the service on April 7, 1941 at Camp Blanding in Florida. He would be assigned to A Company of the 825th Tank Destroyer Battalion.
In 1942, Vester married the former Mary Martha Gay. The couple would make their home in Florida.
The 825th sailed from the New York port on May 30th, 1944, aboard the Queen Elizabeth, arriving in Scotland on June 5th. After an additional 2 months of training, the men and equipment were loaded on LST's and arrived on Utah Beach in Normandy, France. They were equipped with 3" towed guns and were initially assigned to the Communications Zone where they performed 12th Army Group security duties between August and December, 1944.
The battalion entered combat near Malmedy, Belgium, on December, 17th. The next morning, Lieutenant Jack Doherty, commanding the 1st Platoon of A Company, sent his first and second gun squads, commanded by Sergeants John Armstrong and Jonas Whaley, with their half-tracks and 3' guns across the Amblève River bridge at Stavelot. The third and fourth squads, commanded by Sergeants Martin Hauser and Lou Celentano, stayed on the right bank of the river with the aim of protecting the two first squads going up the Old Castle Road. Also on the right bank was the Security Jeep driven by Sylvio Ferrigno, Staff Sergeant Vester O. Lowe in his Jeep, driven by Arthel Gibson, the Jeep of Lt. Doherty and his driver Earl Shugart and the GMC Ammunition truck.
Meanwhile, the Germans had pulled a tank in a curve and began to shoot, hitting Sgt Armstrong's unit. Then, SS men used a burp gun to kill him and 5 other men of his crew who were trying to get out of the burning half-track. The armored spearhead of Kampgruppe SS Joachim Peiper came near their goal of establishing a bridgehead across the River Meuse during the Battle of the Bulge. The determined American resistance, among them Sgt. Celentano and Sgt. Hauser, disrupted the German timetable and cost Peiper's tanks precious time.
Lt. Doherty ordered the third and fourth squad 76mm guns moved into position at Allée Verte to fire on the German tanks, a distance of about 650 yards. From across the river Sgt. Celentano and Sgt. Hauser's squads now aimed their guns at the tracks of the enemy tanks, disabling four of them. Sgt. Celentano decided to shoot down more of the buildings because they seemed to be hiding behind them. His gunner, Cpl Roy Ables and Hauser’s, Cpl. Paul Lenzo, managed to stop the first and the last tanks of the column almost immediately. The antitank gun crews continued to load and fire.
There were many shots fired and Sgt. Celentano's gun hit the turret of a second tank that was pointing its gun towards them. As the enemy armor rolled into Stavelot, a German Tiger Tank, No. 105, belonging to Obersturmführer Jürgen Wessel appeared on the other end of the street from Sgt. Hauser's gun. Both started firing their guns and the Tiger completely destroyed Lt. Doherty's Jeep, which was in the front position. Sgt. Hauser's half-track, which was just behind the Jeep, was also hit. The half-track was disabled and on fire but at the same time Sgt. Hauser's gun hit the Tiger in the turret and the tank then backed into a building, sending bricks crashing down on it.
Lt. Doherty and his driver escaped from their Jeep just before it was set ablaze by the Tiger's machine guns, however, Lt. Doherty was groggy and slightly hurt, both his mouth and legs had been injured and he was temporarily unable to command. His driver, Earl Shugart, had right leg wounds and the driver of the Security Jeep, Sylvio Ferrigno, also received some shrapnel wounds to his chest. SSgt. Lowe took command and ordered his driver to put Lt. Doherty on the hood of their Jeep. He also ordered Sgt. Hauser and Cpl. Lenzo to destroy their gun using a canister shell and for the rest of the third squad, to escape to Malmedy using the GMC ammunition truck. The Security Jeep led the column, followed by the GMC and SSgt. Lowe's Jeep with Lt. Doherty on the hood. Sgt. Hauser and Cpl. Lenzo escaped on foot, climbing the wall behind the Institute Saint Joseph school. Both men were picked up the next day.
As the result of this action, six men from First Section were killed and two were wounded. All the men of the Second Section sought refuge in nearby houses. Both Sgt. Celentano and Sgt. Hauser were awarded the Bronze Star for knocking out or disabling four German tanks.
The 825th returned to security duties on January, 16. 1945. They received credit for participation in the campaigns of Northern France, Ardennes-Alsace, Rhineland and Central Europe. Vester also received a Bronze Star, the EAME Medal, the WWII Victory, the American Campaign Medal as well as the Good Conduct Medal. When he left the service he held the rank of Staff Sergeant.
Vester returned to the U.S. to begin his civilian life. His relationship with Mary would end and he would mary Elinor P. In November of 1961, Vester would marry the former Barbara Samples. The couple would live in Melrose but move to Gainesville in 2000. Vester was the owner and operator of the F.S. Lowe & Son Boat Ways. Vester would have three children, Linda, Fleming and Thomas.
Vester recalled a story to his son from his time in Luxembourg or Belgium, "We came across a baby, not a toddler, but a baby that required a crib. There were no adults around. We weren’t even house broken ourselves, a group of dirty fighting soldiers, and we had a baby. The Germans and the Americans were very good about not bombing or shooting into Churches so we found a church, and I walked in trying to find anyone who would take the baby. Nobody wanted it, they all turned their heads…except for one very older lady. She reached out and took the baby and I sent an aid to get them a week of K-Rations. As the rations were being brought to the lady, EVERYBODY WANTED THE BABY THEN. I had to give her and the baby a security detail to get them out of the church.” At that point Vester would stop speaking about it to avoid thinking of what may have happened to that child. One could only hope that it survived.
He was a lifetime member of the Elks Lodge in Sarasoata and a member of the Gator Boosters and a charter member of the Gatortown Gators. Vester passed away on October 27, 2005, and was buried in the Manasota Memorial Park in Brandenton, FL.
I want to thank Serge Lemaire for providing information and photos for this tribute. I want to thank Mary Hodson for her assistance and Hubert Laby who has written books on the actions at Stavelot and has allowed us to include two photos of Vester (second and fourth) from his books. Thank you to Donna McPherson for the use of the grave marker photo.