Green Beret earns Soldier’s Medal for aiding retired Army Ranger
By CHAD GARLAND | STARS AND STRIPES Published: January 14, 2021
Note: This article has been corrected.
An Army physician assistant earned the Soldier’s Medal for his bravery and decisiveness when he strapped a makeshift tourniquet on his own mangled arm and treated his badly wounded mentor after motorcyclists slammed into them at high speed.
Lt. Col. Larry Wyatt, a clinic director with Special Operations Command, was on a bicycle ride with retired Ranger Col. Thomas Wells, a Princeton-trained trauma surgeon and avid cyclist, when a pair of motorcycles sped toward them on a narrow bike trail bridge near Tampa.
“I could see a motorcycle front end coming up, and the trail motorcycle pulled around to pass,” Wyatt recalled in an Army statement this week. “There was nowhere for us to go because of the chain link fence around the bridge.”
One of the motorcycles hit them at about 50 mph, knocking them unconscious. Wyatt, then 51, was dragged some 30 yards, waking up moments later with a broken nose, cracked teeth, a split eyebrow and a gash down to the bone in his left forearm, which was gushing blood.
“All I could hear was my dad’s voice in my head, ‘You will face rough times in your life. You always get up on your own two feet by yourself. So get up,’ ” Wyatt said in the Army statement.
After borrowing a motorcyclist’s belt and tying it as a tourniquet for his own arm, Wyatt tended to the bikers. He then went to check on Wells, then 64, who was on the ground entangled with one of the motorcycles.
Wyatt got one of the bikers to help him move Wells away from the motorcycle, where he began trying to stabilize him. A former Green Beret medical sergeant, Wyatt did a hands-on check of the man he considered something like an older brother, feeling for the grinding of any broken bones.
“He was in a lot of pain,” said Wyatt, whose wound was still dripping blood. “I kept apologizing, ‘I’m sorry for bleeding on you, Doc. … His response was, ‘Just do what you got to do.’ ”
After Wyatt called 911 and relayed the list of injuries, the emergency responders had to walk to the scene because the wounded men were still on the narrow bridge. They were rushed to a nearby hospital.
“Doc kept saying, ‘Don’t go anywhere,’” Wyatt recalled. “And I said, ‘I’m not going anywhere, brother, I’m right here with you.’”
Wells’ leg was broken in three places and he “suffered neck fractures” and broken bones around his eyes, said Officer Scott Blanchette of the St. Petersburg police, who investigated the incident. Wells spent about three weeks in the hospital, Blanchette said in a sworn statement requesting an arrest warrant be issued for the motorcycle rider a few months after the incident.
Motorcycles are not allowed on the trail, Blanchette said. He named the rider as Marques Sumbry, 30, who was later charged with two counts of reckless driving with serious bodily injury, one count of driving an unregistered motor vehicle, and one count for operating a motorcycle without the proper endorsement on his license.
Sumbry faced a maximum of 11 years in prison, but was sentenced Monday to three years of probation in exchange pleading guilty to the reckless driving charges, Pinellas County court records show.
Wyatt, who spent more than a 1½ years in recovery and underwent several surgeries, promised himself he’d always carry a tourniquet after the incident. He and Wells both still need more surgeries, the Army said in a statement.
For working through his own injuries to help his friend, Wyatt received the Soldier’s Medal, the Army’s highest award for bravery outside combat, from SOCOM commander Gen. Richard D. Clarke in a Dec. 22 ceremony at MacDill Air Force Base, Fla.
“Wyatt’s personal example of selfless service, superb medical knowledge and unhesitating decisive action are consistent with the greatest traditions of our uniformed services and played a pivotal role in saving the lives of two individuals,” the citation reads.
Correction: This story has been corrected and updated. An earlier version misstated the number of motorcycles that hit Larry Wyatt and Thomas Wells, based on information from an Army statement. Court records show that only one of the vehicles hit the men.
Gen. Richard D. Clarke, commander, U.S. Special Operations Command, presents Lt. Col. Larry Wyatt, USSOCOM clinic director, with a Soldier’s Medal at MacDill Air Force Base, Fla., Dec. 22, 2020. He was awarded the medal for delivering lifesaving care to two people after a motorcycle collided with bicyclists April 7, 2019, despite being injured himself.
BARRY LOO/U.S. AIR FORCE