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Helping those in need is vital part of military DNA

If it weren’t for Air Force Tech. Sgt. Lewis Collins, Walter Padron might not have been able to go on a family cruise to the Caribbean for his granddaughter’s 15th birthday.

Around 4 p.m. July 10, Collins, the working-dog kennel master with the 6th Security Forces Squadron at MacDill Air Force Base, was returning from a doctor’s appointment when he saw a man on a bicycle hit by a 1995 green Toyota sedan at Spruce Street and MacDill Avenue.

Collins stopped his car and jumped out. Trained in first aid, he was prepared to help.

“I ran over and saw the bike tangled up in his legs,” Collins says. “He was unconscious and I noticed he was bleeding from the back of his head.”

Collins says he used his hand to apply pressure and stop the bleeding.

“I made sure he was breathing. He started coming to, and I started talking to him and he told me he was real dizzy.”

As the man started coming to, Collins called 911.

“He was conscious, but still a little out of it. He kept talking about how he wanted to go on a cruise the next day for his granddaughter’s 15th birthday.”

Tampa Police and Tampa Fire Rescue crews responded. Collins briefed them on the man’s condition and headed back on his way.

He doesn’t know what happened to the driver. But police cited Daimely Piloto Suarez, 22, for failing to yield the right of way.

Collins shrugs off his effort as no big deal, even though he had a stranger’s blood all over him.

“I know I didn’t have any lacerations or cuts on my hands, so the risk was minimal,” he says. “If someone is bleeding out, I can’t sit there and watch them bleed.”

Airman 1st Class Ned T. Johnston wrote a piece about the incident for the base website and tracked down Walter Padron. Padron visited MacDill on July 27 to thank Collins.

“He helped me out a lot,” says Padron, 79, a retired sheet metal worker originally from Cuba.

Collins not only stopped the bleeding but kept Padron from thrashing around.

“I would have hurt myself more. I have a pretty hard head.”

Padron was released from the hospital after about six hours so he was able to make the cruise with his granddaughter and nearly two dozen friends and relatives. He was still in pain, though, and spent a lot of time in his cabin.

“The sergeant deserves to be called a good Samaritan for what he did. He stopped from going where he was going and helped someone on the floor. That’s something to be thankful for.”

Collins, who oversees 11 German shepherds and Belgian Malinois that perform bomb sniffing and security functions, said it’s nice to be appreciated.

And he’s in good company among his team members.

A few weeks back, Staff Sgt. Jonathan Desmond was heading to his child’s birthday party, Collins says, when Desmond noticed a rider fall.

“He stopped and rendered aid to the person who fell off. He pulled the bike off the middle of road, helped with cuts and scrapes until fire and ambulance showed up.

“It’s part of our nature,” he says. “When we see someone in need, we are not going to sit around and watch. It is an alpha mentality. We always want to help someone and we expect it back.”

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When I was a kid, one of my favorite things to do at my Uncle Saul’s house in Boston was to play with the Purple Heart medal he received for injuries he received at Normandy on D-Day. Uncle Saul, who had a false teeth and liked to smoke cigars, let me pin it on and walk around with it whenever we visited him.

Uncle Saul is long gone, but the memory of the Purple Heart remains.

Thursday is National Purple Heart Day, recognizing the day in 1782 when Gen. George Washington established the Badge of Military Merit. In 1932 it became the Purple Heart. The heart-shaped medal features a gold profile of Washington set against a purple background and is awarded to those wounded or killed in action or who died from their wounds.

The medal was established to help boost the morale of soldiers threatening to mutiny, according to the Military Order of the Purple Heart website.

Unlike the British, who only honored senior officers, Washington wanted something to recognize the troops.

“Honored by all, desired by none,” is the medal’s motto, according to Gerard Abbett, who received two Purple Hearts during his time in Vietnam.

Abbett has helped lead the charge to gain local recognition of the medal, with Tampa, Plant City, Temple Terrace and Hillsborough County commemorating the Purple Heart on Thursday

Special flags will be flown in front of County Center and the three city halls.

There will also be a small ceremony 11 a.m., followed by the raising of a Purple Heart flag at Veterans Memorial Park and Leroy Collins Museum, 3602 U.S. 301, Tampa.

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Scott Macksam is indefatigable.

Macksam, who retired as a major two years ago after 20 years in the Army, has spent a good deal of his time since then bringing an amazing collection of war photography called The American Soldier to the St. Petersburg Museum of Art.

Macksam, who likes to be called Major Mack, or Major Mack Daddy, is doubling down on that exhibition, which leaves the museum Aug. 16 for Washington state.

Thursday night, at a closing reception organized by Operation Helping Hand, Macksam unveiled his latest effort — Operation Art, designed to “promote, advocate, sell and show fine art from our military veterans and family members,” according to the organization’s Facebook page.

Macksam spent a career as a field artillery officer blowing things apart. Now he is trying to build something up.

He says he is looking for gallery/art space somewhere in St. Petersburg with the idea of holding visual and performing arts and other events there.

“I am trying to raise $2.75 million,” he says.

When I asked him how close he is to that goal, Macksam declined to say.

He says he was close to finding a spot but the deal didn’t work out.

From what I know about Maj. Mack Daddy, I wouldn’t bet against him.

For more information, contact him at (813) 504-3092 or [email protected] hotmail.com.

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Operation Art wasn’t the only thing that debuted at the reception. Macksam and Clearwater artist Stuart Dwork unveiled an unusual twist.

A featured photo from the Korean War shows one soldier comforting another who had just learned a buddy was killed. Back in 1964, while stationed at Fort Lee in Virginia, artist Dwork made a painting of the photograph.

“I worked on it at night in the craft shop,” Dwork says.

Years later, copies of the painting became quite popular, with one hanging in the U.S. Central Command building at MacDill Air Force Base, says Dwork, who has an art exhibit of his own this month at the Carrollwood Cultural Center, 4537 Lowell Road, Tampa.

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The Pentagon announced the death of a seaman last week in support of Operation Enduring Freedom, the war in Afghanistan.

Boatswain’s Mate Seaman Yeshabel Villotcarrasco, 23, of Parma, Ohio, died as a result of a nonhostile incident June 19 aboard the USS James E. Williams while the destroyer was underway in the Red Sea.

There have now been 2,327 U.S. troop deaths in support of Operation Enduring Freedom, the nation’s longest war.

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