Wednesday, March 7, 2012

Special Edition: Interview to General James Dozier

December 17th, 1981.
Most Italians remember this day for the kidnapping of NATO head, General James Lee Dozier, by the terrorist group Red Brigades in Verona, Italy. Exactly thirty years ago, masked men, pretending to be plumbers, gained entry to his house and apprehended him. It would take his wife Judy, gagged and tied, four hours of banging her head against a washing machine to alert the neighbors. At that moment, I was at the theater with my father (I had just turned twelve and this was a birthday present). Shortly after the play had started, carabinieri (Italian police) came into the theater and indicated we needed to follow them (no cell phones then). My father was the NATO liason officer between the Italian and American general. I wouldn't be seeing much of him in the next few weeks.
After a nation-wide search that lasted 42 days, Dozier was freed on January 28th, 1982. The brilliant operation rescue by the NOCS (Italian Special Forces) was over in 90 seconds and miraculously nobody was killed.

General, it's a real pleasure to speak to you. Were you aware at the time you were kidnapped the extent of the search going on for you?

Yes, I was. The guards would bring me international newspapers. They tore out any articles about the kidnapping but they forgot about the table of contents. I was definitely aware of the big manhunt!

You went to West Point Academy and you were in Vietnam. Do you think this equipped you to deal with the ordeal? What strategies did you use?

Well, West Point helped me from a discipline standpoint. I don't think Vietnam helped. What did help was having been sent to the Creative Leadership Center in North Carolina. They have you look at yourself through the eyes of another and put yourself in their shoes. So I did that and made myself a very reliable hostage. That helped a lot. I had had no training at all for a situation like this. I acted by instinct.

What was your first thought when you realized you were being kidnapped?

I wasn't sure what was happening. I was jumped from behind and then got into a fight. My first thought was to get this person off my back. I heard them say: "Sono Brigate Rosse." But after knocking me to the ground, they felt my breath and pulse so I knew they didn't want me dead.

When you relive the moment, would you have reacted differently?

The obvious answer is I wouldn't have opened the door but they had plans for that scenario. They would have thrown down the door. It was a 14 men team with security and back up downstairs.

What was your biggest concern when they apprehended you?

That they would make a mistake and I would die. They had me handcuffed and thrown in the trunk of the car. There were no holes so it got very difficult to breathe. They stopped on the car trip to Padova to open the trunk and let me breathe. My hand were tied and anytime I moved they got tighter. The circulations was cut off. My arms were numb for months.

Have you kept in touch with the NOCS who freed you?

Yes, very closely. I've been back several times. Six years ago,  I re-enacted with them the entire operation at the same apartment for Italian TV.

It has been rumored recently that there may have been 'waterboarding' to find out where you were being held. Any thoughts on that?

I have read the reports but I don't think this is true. I asked extensively how they found out where I was being held and the answer is they found out where the driver was, captured him in bed with his girlfriend. They interrogated them close to each other. When the girlfriend became unglued, the individual who was quite unstable and scared of repercussions, started talking.

I told my son that the first thing you wanted to eat when you were freed was a hamburger. So he wanted me to ask you what type of food you had during your captivity?

I was pretty well fed. Mostly canned food, some pasta. A salad once. One night, I believe it was New Year's, they gave me a glass of wine. You can tell your son that by far the most disagreeable thing was the music they forced me to listen to all day with headphones. It was Acid Rock. I hope he doesn't listen to that.

I don't think so, maybe Johnny Cash. Last question, do you still like Verona?
Are you kidding? I love it!


  1. Wow, how did you get this interview?

    1. General Dozier was in Verona for an anniversary of his liberation and having lunch at my parent's house. He was willing to do the interview over the phone since I'm in Singapore.

  2. Thanks!! I was surprised at how forthcoming he was!