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Dozier recounts U-boat surrender

Photo by Vicki Harris

Photo by Vicki Harris

ALBANY -- Tinsley Dozier Sr. doesn't consider himself a hero.

But history tells a different story.

The 83-year-old retired Albany businessman was a gunner's mate on the deck of the USS Sutton, a small but swift Destroyer Escort that patrolled the North Atlantic during the waning years of World War II.

Tasked with escorting cargo ships and securing the high seas between Newfoundland and the Azores, Dozier -- then just 17 years old -- was one of several hundred young American men assigned to the ship when it left Tampa on its maiden cruise in August 1944.

While patrolling the Atlantic on May 9, 1945, the Sutton and its sister ship, the Neal A. Scott, were dispatched to intercept the German submarine U-1228, whose crew had signaled their desire to surrender.

But while en route, the Sutton received orders to steam two-days further into the North Atlantic to rendezvous with another U-boat, U-234 -- the German Navy's largest submarine.

On May 15, 34 Nazi sailors and scientists surrendered to Dozier and the crew of the Sutton, including Maj. Gen. Ulrich Kessler, one of the top remaining German officers attached to the German air forces, or Luftwaffe.

In addition to those who surrendered, a boarding crew discovered two dead Japanese scientists who had apparently committed ritualistic suicide aboard the submarine and a stockpile of uranium -- one of the key components used in making an atomic bomb.

Military officials would later learn that the U-234, the flagship of the German underwater fleet, had been dispatched during the final days of the Reich on a mission to deliver the German scientists and uranium to Japan so that the Japanese could develop nuclear weapons.

"There are all kinds of rumors out there," Dozier said. "But there is one that I've heard that I'd like to believe and that is that the uranium we found that day was used to make the second atomic bomb we dropped on Japan. ... I guess it ended up getting to them one way or the other."

Japan would fail to develop nuclear weapons before the war ended a year later. Scholars continue to speculate as to what might have happened if the U-234 had completed its mission, but Dozier said one thing is clear -- he was glad to have helped.

"We didn't know what uranium was back then," he said. "But maybe we were able to help keep it out of the hands of the Japanese long enough for our guys in the Pacific to do their job. I just don't know."

Dozier, who volunteered at 17 to join the Navy in part because his uncle, Paul Dozier, was killed aboard the destroyer Hammond during the storied battle of Midway earlier in the war, said that the Sutton ended up sinking at least one German sub while patrolling the Atlantic.

"I feel like I really grew up in the Navy," Dozier said. "Some people, they grow up on the farm or they go to college and that's where they mature. But for me, I grew up during my time on the Sutton. The Navy made me a man."

When Dozier's time in the service and the war were over, the Morgan native returned to Southwest Georgia and tried to find a way for his love of sports to translate into a career.

He tried a stint a semi-professional baseball player, playing alongside others like Albany native Bobby Dews Sr. -- whose son spent 30 years with the Atlanta Braves organization before retiring in 2008 as a bullpen coach -- before he realized that if putting food on the table depended on his prowess on a baseball diamond, he was likely to go hungry.

"It didn't take long for me to realize that being a ball player wasn't going to be something that would help pay the bills, so I started thinking about other ways to stay connected with sports and make a living," he says.

By 1949, he was running wide open as the owner and operator at Dozier's Sporting Goods and Hobby Shop in downtown Albany. For nearly 15 years the store would become a fixture downtown before the beginning phases of what Dozier calls the merchant flight from downtown into suburban Albany began in the early 1960s.

In 1962, he closed shop and became part owner of Albany Background Music. Within a few years, he bought the other owners out before buying the Albany franchise to the national Muzak corporation. Dozier's interest in Muzak -- the background music commonly heard in doctor's offices and elevators -- would grow. By 1985, he owned the company franchises from Forsyth South to the Florida line.

That year he would sell the franchises to a colleague in Atlanta for a tidy sum, prompting a retirement attempt.

"I was comfortable enough to retire, but I didn't like just sitting around and not doing much more than yard work," he said.

So, a year later, he founded A-1 Lock & Key, and had it "paying for itself in 11 months."

He sold the company in 1990. This time, he said, he retired for good.

Dozier currently slaves over his golf game, he says with a grin, and tries not to aggravate Eloise, his wife of 57 years who he says is still the most beautiful woman he's ever seen.

In recounting his time in the Navy, Dozier remains proud, yet humble, of his service.

"I ain't no hero," Dozier says, "but I wasn't no draft dodger either. Times were a little different back then, even before I was old enough to volunteer me and my buddies would set out on the farm in Morgan and look at the sky for suspicious planes.

"We all did our part."

This is an installment in an occasional series focusing on America's Greatest Generation. If you know a World War II veterans who we should profile, please e-mail contact information to news@albanyherald.com, write Greatest Generation c/o The Albany Herald, P.O. Box 48, Albany, Ga. 31702 or call Managing Editor Danny Carter at (229) 888-9346.