CHARLESTON, S.C. (WCSC) – A Berkeley County native and war veteran returned home on Wednesday for a very special occasion. Vester Owens will celebrate his 100th birthday in his hometown of Cross. His family is giving him the welcome home celebration he never received as a soldier after World War II. He now lives in Texas.
Owens arrived at his gate at the Charleston airport on Wednesday to cheers and handshakes of gratitude. The double-amputee says it’s been a long time and a long trip, but he’s happy to be back.
“I’m fine; I feel good; I just don’t have any legs,” Owens said; with a laugh.
He thanked his fellow soldiers from D-Day who he says is the reason he is here to celebrate turning 100.
“I’m a country boy; I didn’t know how to swim,” Owens said. “And I jumped off in Normandy with water up to here, I had a rifle in this hand and a bag that weighed 80 pounds in this hand. Good thing somebody else could swim, otherwise I would have drowned.”
Owens left the terminal with an escort from Charleston fire, police and sheriff’s departments welcoming him home as a hero.
His birthday is April 9, and on Saturday, his loved ones have organized a parade to honor him for his service and sacrifice. The public is invited to come out and cheer him on along the route. Family members say the ROTC and band from Cross High School will be participating. The parade route begins at 3:00 p.m. at the intersection of Highways 6 and 45. It ends at Cross High School.
His family provided the following biography about Owens’ life and service.
Vester Owens was born in rural Cross on April 9, 1922. A black man born in the segregated south, he worked as a plowman in the cotton fields until drafted into the United States Army in 1942. He left his home in Berkeley County to help storm the beaches of Normandy, France, on D-Day in 1944 during World War II.
Owens risked his life as Germans attempted to cut off the precious supply lines he worked on to help the largest invasion in history move forward. It would be some time before Germany finally surrendered in 1945.
After the war, there were no ticker-tape parades lined with a thankful public when Owens returned home. White soldiers in towns big and small were honored and celebrated. His didn’t have the same large public reception because Jim Crow laws were still in place. Owens’ heroism was only recognized by his family. To others, his sacrifice was ignored and unremembered.
Now, Mr. Vester Owens wants to come full circle and celebrate being 100 years old in the rural area where he grew up, Cross, S.C. He is determined to go back to where it all began for him, nearly a century ago.
Owens married Julie Nesbitt, and they had five children; three are still living.
After World War II, he left the Army and transitioned to the Air Force, retiring after 27 years of service. He retired from Caswell Air Force Base in Ft. Worth and made Texas his home.
He is a retired businessman believed to have the first black-owned vending company in Tarrant County, Texas.
He helped many other family members to relocate to Texas, sponsoring some financially with scholarships to attend college.
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