Gen. James Dozier Gets a Red, White and Blue Welcome from His Hometown of Arcadia, Fla.

updated 03/08/1982 AT 01:00 AM EST

originally published 03/08/1982 AT 01:00 AM EST

The surging crowd reached its target before the 12 security guards could save him. Brig. Gen. James Dozier was swallowed up and his wife, Judy, left stranded. "I'm gonna lose Jimmy again," she exclaimed. This time, though, it was not Italy's gun-toting Red Brigades who had captured General Dozier, but a happy crowd of more than 3,000 residents in Arcadia, Fla. They were welcoming the town's favorite son and celebrating his release after 42 days of captivity.

The day combined the classic props of small-town Americana with the exuberance of a hostage homecoming. There were a 300-pound cake, a two-foot-long key to the city and an oak tree festooned with yellow ribbons. Anxious to keep the party homey, town officials rejected both an offer of an elephant and a state politician's appeal for a place on the platform. Still, Dozier, 50, was embarrassed at the attention he received from his many new and old friends. "I feel like a toad in a hailstorm," he said.

Actually, Dozier has made few visits to Arcadia since the night in 1951 when he and some 75 other youngsters in the local National Guard were called into active service during the Korean War. He went on to West Point and a military life, but the town did not forget Jimmy Dozier. He was the only son of Doc Dozier, who worked in the family's dry goods store and who died when Jimmy was 14, and Leota Dozier, a legendary Desoto High School English teacher for almost four decades. As No. 37 on the basketball team and president of the Honor Society, Jimmy was voted "most likely to succeed." After he was kidnapped in Verona on Dec. 17, the town united in a show of sympathy. There were public prayer vigils and a big yellow ribbon for the town's 100-year-old "Tree of Knowledge." Following his Jan. 28 rescue, church bells pealed, local shops blossomed with signs, and an Arcadia printing company distributed bumper stickers that read, "How Do You Spell Release?...Dozier."

The real celebration came when Arcadians got to see their native son in person—and reminisce. "We used to play war," recalled Don Newton, now an Orlando architect, "and even then Jim was the commander." Pebble Eller Jordan, now a fifth-grade teacher in Orlando, remembered the day Dozier saved the honor of the high school at a football game: "I gave the drumroll and the whole band went blank—they forgot The Star-Spangled Banner—but Jimmy carried it through on his trumpet." No one was more moved by all the memories than the general himself. When called upon for his feelings about Arcadia, he delivered, aptly, a homespun homily: "It's just doggone good to be home."

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