NATO general kidnapped in 1981 holds emotional reunion with liberators

US General James Lee Dozier in Italy to meet the members of the police special operations unit who liberated him, March 10, 2012

From Philip Pullela, Reuters:  For 42 days three decades ago, U.S. General James Lee Dozier was the world’s most famous hostage and his captors, the Red Brigades, were Europe’s most feared and bloody terrorist organization.

Dozier, now 80, has come back to Italy, perhaps for the last time, to meet the members of the police special operations unit who liberated him in one of the most daring rescue raids of those dramatic years in Italian history.

"If it weren’t for guys like these I wouldn’t be here," he told Reuters last Saturday at an emotional 30-year reunion with the 13-man SWAT team that saved him on the cold but clear morning of January 28, 1982. . .

Dozier, then NATO’s deputy chief of staff for land forces for Southern Europe and based in Verona, was the biggest fish the Red Brigades nabbed after former Prime Minister Aldo Moro, who they held for 55 days in 1978 before killing him.

Dozier knows he was probably destined to meet Moro’s fate had it not been for the raid led by Major Edoardo Perna on an apartment in the northern city of Padua where five Red Brigades guerrillas had held Dozier prisoner in a tent. . . .

Dozier was kidnapped in his apartment in Verona on December 17, 1981 by four Red Brigades’ guerrillas masquerading as plumbers. One held a gun to his wife’s head to convince him not to resist.

The period was one of the most tense of the Cold War. At the time, NATO was making plans to deploy nuclear Pershing II and Cruise missiles in Western Europe, including in Sicily, to counter the threat of Soviet SS-20 missiles aimed at Europe.

His kidnapping stunned the Pentagon and sent shivers throughout Western European governments. . . .

For 42 days they interrogated him about NATO operations and occasionally sent flyers with his picture behind their trademark five-pointed star to newspapers.

At 11:25 on the morning of Jan 28, 1982, Perna and 12 other men launched the daring operation. Six men secured the perimeter while Perna and six others stormed the apartment where five Brigades members, including two women, were holding Dozier.

"After we knocked down the door I immobilized one of the women and used her as a shield to move forward. One of my men rushed into the tent where Dozier was being held and hit the terrorist guarding Dozier on the head with the butt of his pistol," Perna said. "There was some blood but not a shot was fired."  (photo: Reuters)

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