Albert E. Dawson
Lieutenant Colonel, United States Air Force
By Patricia Sullivan
Courtesy of the Washington Post
Tuesday, August 7, 2007
Albert E. Dawson, 87, a Lieutenant Colonel in Air Force intelligence who died July 11, 2007, of congestive heart failure at his Alexandria, Virginia, home, kept a secret for decades: that he had posed for a photograph with two Chinese Communist leaders on an Asian mountain in the post-World War II years.
It wasn't until President Richard M. Nixon went to China in 1972 that Colonel Dawson, who had served in the Strategic Air Command headquarters during the red-baiting of the 1950s, pulled the photograph from hiding, enlarged it and hung it on his wall in the Pentagon. It showed a 27-year-old airman squinting into the camera alongside future Chinese premier Zhou Enlai and Red Army founder Zhu De.
Colonel Dawson had been a navigator on flights that ferried Communist and Nationalist Chinese leaders to peace talks in the remote countryside as both sides vied for political dominance. When the meetings ended in 1947, Zhou Enlai hosted a farewell luncheon for the Americans.
"Mao Tse Tung's photo was on the wall in the center, with Truman to his right and Stalin to his left," Colonel Dawson later recalled. "Zhou Enlai later presented me with a prayer rug. Each crew member received a gift."
His interaction with history began early, shortly after the Flint, Michigan, native decided that he didn't want to follow his father into the auto manufacturing plants. He joined the National Guard at age 15 and was soon manning a machine gun during the labor strife that swept the plants in the 1930s.
"They would send the National Guard units from Flint down to Pontiac, and the units from Pontiac up to Flint because they didn't want us aiming our weapons at our fathers," he told his family.
In 1941, vision problems caused him to wash out of pilot training in what was then the Army Air Corps. But his navigation skills were superb, so he was assigned to Texas as an instructor through most of the World War II. He was on the West Coast preparing to ship out when the war ended.
Colonel Dawson was assigned to a troop carrier group in Shanghai and then to Beijing as a navigator and intelligence officer. During that period, he flew the Chinese to the unsuccessful peace talks. He was transferred to the Philippines and was in a 1948 parade at Clark Air Force Base when he saw President Manuel Acuña Roxas have a heart attack in the middle of the ceremony. Roxas died a few hours later.
The young navigator-bombardier flew scores of missions in the Korean War. On one flight, he told his family, a gasoline bomb leaked, filling the plane with so much gasoline that the crew was afraid to open the bomb bay doors, because a spark could set off an explosion. The flight engineer recommended that each crew member urinate on the gasoline. At 20,000 feet with no heat, the urine froze over the gas, lowering the risk of a spark setting it off. They opened the doors and dumped bombs and urine. When the crew recommended the flight engineer for a medal, "the board wouldn't buy it because it was awkward to read it without laughing," Colonel Dawson said later.
He was the navigator on the first aircraft to fly across the Atlantic at excess of 600 mph in 1953. The record stood for only a few months.
As an intelligence briefer at the Strategic Air Command headquarters in Omaha in 1955, he appeared in the movie "Strategic Air Command" as part of an audience of officers who received a briefing.
After a tour in Wiesbaden, Germany, and then at the Pentagon -- as an expert on Soviet missile technology and strategy -- Colonel Dawson retired in 1966 and spent the next few years working for Stanford Research Institute and other think tanks as a missile expert and war game strategist. He founded the Falls Church-based Winning Proposals Inc., which helps companies strengthen their bids for government contracts. He stepped down from the company this year because of failing health.
A Golden Gloves boxer in his youth, Colonel Dawson remained physically fit throughout his life and lifted weights at the Pentagon gym until three years ago.
His first marriage, to Elizabeth Dawson, ended in divorce.
Survivors include his wife of 37 years, Wendy
Dawson of Alexandria; two children from his first marriage, Danni Dawson
of Arlington and Jim Dawson of Falls Church; three children from his second
marriage, Benjamin Dawson, Abe Dawson and Adam Dawson, all of Alexandria;
and four grandchildren.
On Wednesday, July 11, 2007 of Alexandria, Virginia. He is survived by his loving wife of 37 years, Wendy Dawson. He is also survived by his children, Danni Dawson, Jim Dawson, Benjamin Dawson, Abe Dawson, and Adam Dawson; and grandchildren, Erin, Dylan, Reeve, and Keiran.
A Memorial Service will be held at 2 p.m. on Wednesday, August 15, 2007 at Fairlington Presbyterian Church, 3846 W. King St., Alexandria, VA 22302.
A graveside service with full honors will be held at 3 p.m. on Thursday, September 13, 2007 at Arlington National Cemetery. Those attending are asked to be at the Administration Building by 2:30 p.m. The family gratefully accepts contributions to the Fairlington Presbyterian Church in lieu of flowers.
DAWSON, ALBERT E
Posted: 23 August 2007