Three weeks after joining the Florida National Guard, the North Koreans invaded South Korea. Eighteen-year-old Jim Dozier’s unit was one of the first to be called to active duty.
He hadn’t joined because he was heeding a call from the Commander-in-Chief for all able-bodied men, or from an overwhelming sense of duty to his country, but rather because “It was the social thing to do in my high school class.” Luckily for him it started him on a career path he thoroughly enjoyed.
James L. Dozier was born in 1931, in the small town of Arcadia, Florida. Upon graduating from high school, he went to the United States Military Academy alongside General Norman Schwarzkopf. He graduated in 1956 with a Bachelor of Science in Engineering.
He would go on to earn a Master of Science degree in Aerospace Engineering from the University of Arizona. General Dozier also attended the Army Command and General Staff College, as well as the Army War College.
Kidnapped By “Plumbers”
In 1981, while stationed in Verona, Italy, General Dozier was kidnapped by the Italian Red Brigades, part of the Marxist militant group.
“It was about 5:30 in the afternoon. My wife and I were having a drink in the kitchen before going to a community meeting. There was a knock at our door and I asked “Who’s there?”
They answered that they were plumbers and there was a leak in the apartment below and needed to see where the water was coming from.
It sounded reasonable to me because the building was twenty years old and there were always things going wrong with it. So I let them in.
They looked for leaks and couldn’t find any. Then the two young men spoke a word in Italian which I didn’t understand. I told them I need to go to the kitchen to get my Italian/English dictionary.
As I was looking the word up, they jumped me. They spun me around and I was looking down the barrels of two silenced pistols. A fight ensued which I rapidly began to lose.”
During the scuffle with the Red Brigades, General Dozier says he was thinking of nothing but survival. The fight spilled out into the hallway. When he was hit in the back of his head, landing him on his back, he looked into the kitchen and saw one of the men had his wife Judith on her knees with a pistol pointed at her head. Fearing for her safety he surrendered. “That’s when the fight was over,” says General Dozier. “And they hauled me off in a clothes trunk.”
Judith was tied, gagged, and chained in a storage closet, but she was able to attract attention by constantly banging her body against a washing machine. She was rescued by neighbors who accessed the apartment through a bathroom window. The ordeal lasted a bit longer for General Dozier who was held captive for forty-two days
“I had no training on how to handle myself in a situation like this, but I had read stories of North Vietnamese, Korean, and WWII POW’s. The story-line that ran through most of their stories was that you plan one day at a time. You try not to look too far ahead.”
This sounded reasonable to General Dozier and he used this approach to cope. “Deal with the problems you can handle and don’t worry about the ones you have no control over.”
His captors kept one of his legs and one of his arms chained to a bunk. They fed him three meals a day, which “weren’t great, but certainly adequate.”
During this time, General Dozier was put on trial in a people’s court. The purpose for this, as told to him by the Red Brigades, was to show the Italian people the kind of war criminals Americans were. They used the general’s award citations from his tour in Vietnam as evidence of him being a war criminal.
On January 28, 1982, a team of Nucleo Operativa Centrale di Sicurezza (a unit of the Italian police) liberated General Dozier without firing a single shot. They captured the entire terrorist cell.
This action should have been the death of the general as one guard had been assigned to shoot him if a rescue attempt was made. However, the guard was so overwhelmed by the episode he was unable to carry out his orders.
The NOCS told General Dozier that they needed to hustle him out because the building was rigged with explosives. The apartment was also full of explosives, but luckily none of them had been rigged.
Can’t Say No to the President
Shortly after his rescue, then President Ronald Reagan called General Dozier and his wife to invite them to the National Prayer Breakfast. “I made the mistake of telling him no. I had been out of the loop for six weeks and felt it was important to catch up on things.”
Twenty minutes later, the general received a call from the Chief of Staff at the Army Office letting him know he was going back to the United States. “I quickly learned you don’t say no to the president.”
Deboarding the plane at Andrews Air Force Base, General Dozier was greeted by then Vice-President George H. W. Bush and his wife Barbara. “That was quite a thrill and a true honor,” he says.
During his ten-day furlough, he also had a complete physical and an intelligence debriefing. After attending the National Prayer Breakfast, the general and his wife returned to Italy.
Life After Military & Family
In 1985, after thirty-five years of faithful service General Dozier retired from the military. He and Judith returned to a job in Arcadia, but quickly decided they wanted to live near the water. So they drew a one hour driving radius from Arcadia and began to explore. They ended up in Fort Myers.
General Dozier now spends his time being involved with the community by serving on a number of boards. “Fort Myers is a perfect place for boaters,” he says. “And I’ve certainly seen some changes in the past thirty-three years. It’s a good place to live.”
The Dozier’s have two children. Daughter Cheryl followed in her father’s footsteps and served in the military, retiring as a Colonel in the Air Force. When he asked Cheryl, “Why don’t you join the Army?” She replied, “I’ve already spent eighteen years in the Army. I want to do something different.” Their son, Scott, is an artist and owns a landscaping company.
General James L. Dozier lived quite the life. He gave thirty-five years of faithful service to our country.
He was awarded the Distinguished Service Medal, a Silver Star, the Defense Superior Service Medal, a Legion of Merit, a Purple Heart, Army Commendation Medal, Meritorious Service Medal, Air Medal, Army Good Conduct Medal, Vietnam Campaign Medal, Vietnam Service Medal, and three Bronze Stars.
For General Dozier, it was thirty-five “very enjoyable” years… minus the forty-two