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  1. Military

Tampa WW2 veteran honored by French with Legion of Honor

Published Sep. 23, 2016

Leonard Stevens was the pilot of a wooden glider that crash- landed near the town of Marseille.

That was his first experience with the French.

It was Aug. 15, 1944, and Stevens was taking part in Operation Dragoon, the liberation of southern France. An Army Air Force flight officer, Stevens was carrying troops from the 82nd Airborne Division, along with some ammunition and a jeep.

The glider landed in a ditch. The jeep came loose and rolled over him as he was leaving the aircraft. Then the driver ran over him and kept going.

Stevens was found three days later, buried in the wreckage. His left and right leg were badly injured and he lost a lot of blood.

His experience with the French last week was much better.

During a ceremony Sept. 15 at the Bad Monkey bar in Ybor City, Stevens, now 95 and living in Tampa, was awarded the French Legion of Honor by French Brig. Gen. Thierry Ducret, his nation's representative to the international coalition at U.S. Central Command.

Created by Napoléon Bonaparte in 1802, the Legion of Honor is the highest decoration France bestows, meant to honor civilians and soldiers.

"This year, 2016, has been indeed a terrible and saddening year," Ducret said, speaking of terror attacks in his country and elsewhere during his presentation before about 100 at the Bad Monkey.

"Mr. Steve," he said, using Stevens' nickname, "you are a true hero and will be a hero forever. We French will never forget what you did to restore our freedom."

Ducret pinned the medal on Stevens' blue blazer and kissed him on both cheeks. The crowed at the Bad Monkey, popular among members of the local military community, erupted.

Philippe Derathé, the former French representative to the CentCom coalition, helped arrange the ceremony and said any veteran who is still alive and served in France is eligible for the award.

For more information, contact him at philippe@derathe.com.

• • •

It has been two years in the making, but retired Army Maj. Scott Macksam is finally seeing his dream come true.

The Veterans Arts Center Tampa Bay, 6798 Crosswinds Drive N, St. Petersburg, held a soft opening Sept. 16.

The 2,100-square-foot center will provide free studio space for veterans, pay for classes and courses at the Morean Arts Center and the Dunedin Fine Arts Center, and is working on art therapy through the Veterans Administration.

War-themed art is therapeutic for the veteran community, Macksam said, and art therapy is a welcome alternative to drug therapies.

Chris Stowe agrees. A 41-year-old retired Marine master gunnery sergeant, and former bomb tech with six deployments to Iraq and Afghanistan, Stowe is now in the legislative affairs office at CentCom. He says art helps him focus, balance and cope with his post-traumatic stress disorder and traumatic brain injury.

For more information about the center, go to vactb.org.

• • •

The Department of Defense last week announced the death of a soldier who was supporting Operation Inherent Resolve.

Warrant Officer Travis R. Tamayo, 32, of Brownsville, Texas, died Sept. 16 in Abu Dhabi, United Arab Emirates, in a non-combat-related incident. The incident is under investigation. He was assigned to the 202nd Military Intelligence Battalion, Fort Gordon, Georgia.

There have been 2,347 U.S. troop deaths in support of Operation Enduring Freedom in Afghanistan; 24 U.S. troop deaths and one civilian Department of Defense employee death in support of the follow-up, Operation Freedom's Sentinel in Afghanistan; and 24 troop deaths and one civilian death in support of Operation Inherent Resolve, the fight against the Islamic State.

Contact Howard Altman at haltman@tampabay.com or (813) 225-3112. Follow @haltman.