FROM THE CORRESPONDENT TO WASHINGTON. It is the morning of January 28, 1982 when the leather heads arrive in via Pindemonte 2 in Padua with a small green van. They have guns and M-12 assault rifles. At 11.25 am I am in front of the door of an apartment in an anonymous building. They break it down with a sharp blow. In a tent set up in a room there has been an American general hostage for 42 days by a five-person command of the Red Brigades led by the then repentant Antonio Savasta: that man is James Lee Dozier, born in 1931, a NATO brigadier general. On December 17, a commando had entered his house in Verona pretending to be plumbers: after having immobilized his wife by tying her to a radiator, they had taken Dozier and, loading him in the trunk of a car, had taken him to Padua. The general will remain in the same den for six weeks, tied to an iron bed under a camping tent with headphones and loud music. Always so until the blitz of the team of the commander of the Nocs Edoardo Perna lasted 50 seconds. Dozier is now 90 years old, his memory is alive, the memories of those 42 days full of details. He answers the phone from his home in Florida, sitting – he says – in front of the “kidnapping corner”, the corner where he collected photos and memories of that experience and books on Nocs. He describes the shot with Presidents Reagan and Pertini and the one with Perna. Symbols of a lightning interlude of life that Dozier has kept and which now – together with the other folds of existence – has become a book, “Finding my Pole Star”.
General Dozier, you turned down major contracts for a book right after your release, why do it now?
«I want to leave a testimony to the young people. After I was discharged in 1985, I embarked on a career in the agriculture business: I got up at dawn and worked a lot. But now that I’m retired, I’ve decided to write it. I was helped by my sister who kept the photos and childhood memories in Arcadia and then I drew on my memory ».
40 years have passed since the kidnapping. Have you ever had nightmares?
“Never, fortunately. I was able to talk about it continuously following the suggestions of the psychologists. Getting things out is the best way to overcome trauma ».
Is there something stuck in your head? A sound, a smell, a voice that takes you back to the Padua apartment?
“Yes, Di Lenardo’s attempts (one of the jailers) to brainwash me.”
How did he do it?
“Every day he came to the tent, talked to me about the BRs, gave me things to read that I threw away. “Forget it”, I told him. He was still coming back. With an Italian dictionary and we translated word for word. I told him that I would never say anything about the secrets of NATO ».
They didn’t give up though …
“They tried to explain to me who the Red Brigades were, what they believed and what we wanted. At the end Di Lenardo told me: “If we can’t get you to ours, maybe we can make you neutral.”
What do you have in mind of the blitz?
“Quickness, a guard’s gun aimed at me. It was very strange, I had never seen weapons there. Suddenly the guard was disarmed. Then the figure of a man pushing himself into the tent. I was afraid it was a showdown between bands of the Br that vied for the prey, me. Instead that man took off his hood, said he was a policeman. They had come to get me and we had to leave immediately because they were afraid the apartment might blow up. In an instant I was sitting in the back seat of a police car in the middle of the Padua traffic. And we went fast, dodging the other cars. We only need one accident, I thought. ‘
The end of the nightmare gave her the strength to say no to the US president. Where did he find the courage?
“Ninth. I learned the hard way that you never say no to the president of the United States, even if you think you have said so (laughs) ».
How did the no-become-yes sir go then?
“An hour after his release, Reagan called. I was at the base of Ederle, Vicenza. He asked me how I was and said, “Do you think you can come to Washington next week for the National Prayer Breakfast? “Sir – he replied – I have been away for six weeks, I have to make up for my backlog.” He hung up. ‘
But he went there and there are photos of the then Vice President Bush who welcomes him at the Washington airport …
“Ten minutes later, the Chief of Staff of the General Staff telephoned:“ Go back to Washington. Immediately”. In short, my no to the president was not really effective ».
Do you remember the first thing he said to his wife?
“” Hi dear, nice to see you. ” But I’m guessing, I don’t remember ”(laughter).
After his meeting with Reagan he returned to Italy, but remained there for a short time. Because?
“My superiors thought it best to close the experience for security reasons. Then he took advantage of a state dinner for the repatriation without fanfare: Pertini was going to Washington, I too was invited to the White House. I have never returned to Italy ».
By military he means …
«Of course, as a soldier, because I have come often and every time I meet my saviors. Now, unfortunately, due to Covid, I have skipped the last few years, the last flight to Italy dates back to 2018. I hope to be able to return soon and thank Commander Perna and all those who saved me again ».
Have you ever seen or heard of your captors again?
«Only at the Verona trial in 1982. They were in the cells of the defendants. I made my deposition. Then they suggested that I leave. And so I did. I know that someone has become a doctor, someone else has repented and rebuilt a life ».
Leadership is one of the themes of the many public speeches he holds. What does it say to young people?
“That today there are too many followers and few leaders.”
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