Local Commentary

Our Man in Arlington

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My neighborhood’s most notable military hero returned for a visit a few months back.

Long-timers on my cul-de-sac spread the word they had spotted Gen. James Dozier, whose 1981 kidnapping by the Italian Red Brigades terrorist group made international news, stopping by in a car for old time’s sake.

So I reached him at his current home in Fort Myers, Fla., to cement the Arlington connection.

Decades before there was ISIS, European governments were threatened by Marxist violent guerilla groups. As a brigadier general in the Army, Dozier was stationed as a NATO senior officer in Verona, Italy. “I knew there was left-wing terrorist activity going on in Italy at that time, but all the intelligence I had access to did not indicate a threat to Americans,” he told me. “My capture came as a total surprise.”

He and his wife were in their 7th floor apartment Dec. 17, 1981, when they answered a knock on the door from several twenty-something men claiming to be plumbers investigating a leak. As Dozier has described it in speeches and newspaper interviews, those plumbers suddenly brandished pistols. They trashed the home, tied up Dozier’s wife Judith, dragged the general outside and stuffed him in the trunk of a car.

For the next 42 days, Dozier was kept chained to a bunk inside a tent. A solitary light bulb burned 24/7, and he was famously forced to wear earphones blasting ear-splitting acid rock. He was not a fan of hard rock, Dozier confided to me.

After a couple of weeks, “I convinced them to change the recordings they were using, and they switched to Gershwin. I’m a big Gershwin fan,” he said.

The reason for his abduction, Dozier later realized, was that NATO was considering putting Cruise missiles in Belgium and Holland. The outraged Red Brigades were using violence to try to take down Italy’s Christian Democratic government. Before any of their vague ransom demands could be met, Dozier was rescued by the Italian police. To this day, he travels to Italy annually for a reunion with those rescuers, now retired.

Now retired himself at 84, Dozier, winner of the Silver Star and Purple Heart, has spent the past 30 years traveling to military bases to share his experience surviving terrorist capture with mid-career Army and Air Force special operations personnel. “Survival, evasion, resistance and escape” is the discipline, “how to exist under extreme conditions, like being alone in the jungle,” he says. He has also made a specialty of the “dynamics of international terrorism” over the past 50 years.

Widowed, remarried and a dabbler in citrus farming, Dozier said his recent visit to take a photo of his old home on Arlington’s Roosevelt Street “brought back a lot of memories’ from 1969-71. His two children attended Tuckahoe School and often played in Tuckahoe Park. Dozier also recalled worked with neighbor Jerry Helm, who with his wife Marie remains a neighborhood stalwart, to build a deck filled with plants and lawn furniture. He eventually had to sell the home to move to less-expensive Vienna.

As for his famous torture by rock music, “I’m surprised there’s any interest since it’s been a long time,” Dozier said. But he enjoys sharing lessons with young warriors in a world where the terrorist threat has only grown—“if it can benefit someone else.”

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When I attended Williamsburg Junior High in the late 1960s, Arlington Public Schools still required that boys take shop class and girls take home economics.

While cleaning out my basement recently, I was reunited with my 50-year-old class project from that endeavor: a self-designed tie rack. Two stained wood slabs nailed at right angles to frame a rotating circular platform lined with small dowel rods to hold the neckties.

I installed it on my middle-aged man’s top closet shelf. Lo and behold, it works! Belated thanks to my teachers Ellsworth Cottom and Leroy Murphy.