April 10, 2014 --
Marines day-in and day-out prove themselves to be a virtuous, proud and strong military force. They train in all climes and places both night and day, and are motivated by the will to raise their own standard. A big part of being a Marine is not only acting as such in uniform, but upholding these standards out of uniform as well.
Sergeant Stephen Lowe, an armory custodian with 2nd Marine Division, is a prime example of this.
Lowe was recently awarded the Navy and Marine Corps Medal for maintaining these standards while on Marine security guard duty at the U.S. Consulate in Lagos, Nigeria, April 28, 2013.
Almost exactly one year ago on a very warm and overcast day at a beach on Snake Island, Nigeria, Lowe and his fellow service members were walking along the shore when Lowe noticed a married couple in distress due to strong rip currents. Upon noticing their pleas for help, Lowe ran into the ocean to begin rescuing the victims. He swam through numerous rip currents and vicious waves up to six feet tall to bring the victims safely back to shore when he observed a third victim caught in the rip currents who had attempted to rescue the couple.
Exhausted, Lowe went back and rescued the last victim and then he and his comrades began CPR on one of the victims who had ceased breathing, and he continued to perform life-saving techniques for nearly two hours until medical help could be reached. Two lives were saved that day, but unfortunately one was not. However, every action was taken to make sure that the casualty had a fighting chance.
Petty Officer Second Class James Yancy, a Seabee Technical Security Specialist at the consulate in Lagos, Nigeria at the time of the incident, and one of the personnel assisting with the rescue that day, said that Lowe acted with great courage and complete disregard for his own life.
“Lowe at any point could have chosen to return to shore, or to take care of himself. [He] displayed the truest heroic characteristics, elected to put his life in jeopardy and sacrifice himself, ensuring every victim made it to safety,” said Yancy.
Lowe claimed that all he and his comrades cared about was getting all of the victims back to shore as quickly and safely as possible.
“I was pushing [Yancy], he was pushing me. I didn’t even think about the situation,” said Lowe. “All I knew was just stay afloat and keep swimming. We didn’t even really think about it until it was over.”
Lowe stated that, to him, he felt like that day he failed in the aspect that he was not able to save all three lives. He claimed that if it were up to him he would have “traded the medal for the victim.”
However, Donna Collins, one of the victims saved by Lowe that day, disagrees. She claims that although one life was lost, he is still a hero, and that she owes her life to him.
“It is my belief that the actions of Lowe on [that day] were heroic and completely selfless. He did not hesitate to put his life in danger in order to save the lives of others. I believe that I would not be alive today had it not been for his bravery,” said Collins. “He worked tirelessly in very difficult circumstances and refused to give up even when the situation appeared hopeless. I will forever be grateful for his courage and bravery, and will always consider him a hero.”
Upon being questioned on why even under such unfavorable conditions he never gave up, Lowe replied with one simple answer.
“My belief is that everybody’s life is more important than your own. That’s the way I was raised that if someone needed help you helped them, even if it was giving them the shirt off of your back. So you should never get or expect a prize for saving someone’s life. That’s a prize in itself.”
Established on August 7, 1942, the Navy and Marine Corps Medal is awarded to service members within the department of the Navy, who, while serving in any capacity in their respective services, distinguish themselves by heroism not involving actual conflict with an enemy. It is typically awarded to those for acts of lifesaving, or attempted lifesaving, and is required that the action be performed at the risk of one’s own life.