TAMPA — Clifford Leo Bisek had never raised his cane in anger.
But on Wednesday morning, the 69-year-old didn't hesitate.
"I'm a Vietnam veteran," he said, "and I don't tolerate garbage."
He was at the checkout counter at the Walgreens at 2115 E Hillsborough Ave. just before 7 a.m. when a man with a paper bag over his right hand walked in. The man motioned to Bisek to keep quiet, pointed the bag at the clerk and demanded money.
Bisek could not tolerate that.
"A lot of them are my friends there," he said of the store, which he often visits just to shoot the breeze or pick up a newspaper.
"I took a crack at him and he tried to grab the cane, so I took another crack at him," he said.
Before the robber could take any money, Bisek chased him out of the store, waving his cane over his head as he ran.
"I missed him by about this much," he said, holding his fingers an inch apart.
On Wednesday afternoon, he stood outside the Nebraska Avenue motel he has lived in for the past six years, smoking cigarettes and laughing as TV crews seeking interviews with him crowded the parking lot.
"I was just doing what anybody would do," he said.
Bisek, who has lived in Tampa for about 30 years, spent more than two decades in the military. He did two tours of duty in Vietnam with the Army and later joined the Navy Seabees.
Social workers helped find him a place to live in the motel when he became partially disabled, he said. He blames exposure to Agent Orange during Vietnam.
Tampa police were still looking Wednesday night for the man he chased away. They released video of the foiled robbery and asked the public for help in tracking down the suspect. They describe him as a white or Hispanic man, between 18 and 25 years old, about 5 feet 8 and 150 pounds.
He was last seen wearing blue jeans, dark shoes and a baby blue sleeveless, hooded jacket with a white T-shirt underneath. The jacket had "971" embroidered on the back and a black, vertical stripe on the right side with "WMA" written with white material.
Even though his actions Wednesday morning were pure instinct, Bisek said he wouldn't think twice about doing it again.
"I don't back down," he said as his military dog tags still jangled around his neck.
Shelley Rossetter can be reached at (813) 226-3374 or email@example.com.