John Dawson is new to Union, but he’s no stranger to the area.

Dawson previously worked in Washington as an architect designing homes and has recently returned to Franklin County to enjoy retirement.

After 20 years of living in his 27-acre ranch in mid-state Tennessee, Dawson decided he no longer wanted to take care of the land.

“I had a 3,000-square-foot house and I couldn’t take care of it,” Dawson said.

“I sold the house and the property and came to be near my daughter in St. Louis. She wanted me to come live in the city and I said, ‘No way.’ I hate the city, I’m not a city person. I’m a country person. I don’t like the traffic, nor the noise, nor anything else. Everyone’s in a hurry, and I’m at the point in my life where I’m not in a hurry anymore.”

After years of taking care of his family and working as an architect and in solar energy, Dawson is devoting his time to crossing off items on his bucket list, which encompasses 27 things he hopes to accomplish. He has already knocked off several items, including visiting his brother in Flagstaff, Ariz. and going to the beach in Charleston, S.C.

“I hadn’t been on the beach in 50 years,” he said. “I just didn’t take the time to do anything (for myself), I only did things for the family.”

Still to come for Dawson is a trip to Branson, going on a cruise, scuba diving, deep sea diving, parasailing and parachuting. Jumping out of a plane will be a familiar feeling for him, as he was in the U.S. Army Airborne Division during the Vietnam War.

Vietnam

After going through high school in New Jersey and going to college in Asbury Park, N.J., Dawson joined the army in 1965. Dawson served two tours as an MT. Dawson said despite protests going on about the war, he never hesitated to join.

“It was a different time in ’65,” he said. “You went where you had to go. You’re told to basically forget about the politics. There were protestors and guys who went AWOL, but I knew what I had to do.”

After serving in Vietnam for his first tour, he was sent to Germany for his second tour. He earned a trip back to Vietnam after an altercation with his lieutenant.

“I had this lieutenant who didn’t like me and he decided he was going to give me a hard time,” Dawson said. “One day this lieutenant came up and decided to harass me. He spit in my face and I cold-cocked him. I went into sergeant major’s office and said, ‘Sir, I just cold-cocked your lieutenant.’ Long story short I was put on house arrest and eventually I was sent back to Nam.”

Dawson suffered two serious injuries in Vietnam. The first came during the Tet Offensive, where an explosion caused his stomach to burst.

The second was a back injury that caused him to be in and out of a wheelchair for the next 10 years.

“We had patrol escorts in the Saigon River, among other things,” he said. “We were hit one night and in an explosion I was thrown backwards. My legs went totally numb and it damaged my spinal cord.”

After the attack, Dawson spent the better part of 10 years in and out of the VA Hospital in St. Louis. He also went through college during that time, attending Meramec, Missouri and Maryville, where he picked up a degree in interior architecture.

Dawson said he was determined to walk again because of his love of athletics. His father was a golf professional when the family lived in Scotland when Dawson was growing up, and gave lessons to the likes of Bob Hope, Randolph Scott and Red Skelton. Dawson played football, golf, basketball and baseball in high school

“My history ever since high school has been athletic,” he said. “I am ambitious in terms of what I plan to do. I wasn’t giving up on walking. Finally after 10 years of being in a wheelchair I graduated to a cane, and from a cane to a walker and finally I was walking on my own.”

Living Inside Out

Dawson believes he has a gift — he can read the emotions of kids by seeing their body auras.

“It is a color,” he said. “It’s like a body heat. I can read that heat in colors. You have white, black and red. White is good, black is in trouble, red is look out.”

Dawson realized he had the ability when he was in Vietnam.

“I was on patrol one day and we stopped at a village,” he said. “I heard a woman screaming and I recognized the voice of a lady expecting.”

Dawson said he could tell by the yells that the woman was about to give birth, and he and a paramedic helped deliver the child.

He has used his ability to amaze students when he substitute teaches in architecture. Dawson said one time when he was teaching, he could tell a student was having an issue by his red aura.

“I said, ‘You have a problem, don’t you?’ And he did. And he looked at me and I said, ‘Don’t do it. It’s not worth it.’ I said, ‘You’re about ready to take somebody out, aren’t you?’ He said, ‘How did you know that?’ I said, ‘I’m reading your emotions.’ ”

Dawson said his ability has helped shape his outlook on life.

“My motto is live inside out instead of outside in,” he said. “How are you supposed to know yourself if you don’t live inside out? If you don’t follow your heart, how are you supposed to live? Do you do that by living a materialistic life of outside in, or inside out? You learn what your limitations and what your good at, and from that you find out what your course of live is.”

Returning to Missouri

Dawson got married after the war and had four children — three boys and one girl. One of his sons died in a train accident at the age of 13.

“He decided he was going to cross the trestle,” he said. “The train came and he never made it. The family grieved a lot, but eventually we got over it. But my first wife, she never got over it.”

Dawson eventually got remarried, and he lived with his wife in Tennessee until she died five years ago. Dawson moved back to Missouri to be closer to his daughter and son, who both live in St. Louis. Dawson’s other son lives in Seattle.

Since moving back to Missouri, Dawson has been working out at the YMCA and competed in the Franklin County Silver Games, where he earned five medals. He will compete in the Senior Games in the Missouri State Senior Games next June.

“The last three years I haven’t been able to do lower body athletics, just upper body,” Dawson said. “So now I’m doing six events in the Senior Olympics. I do javelin, discus, shot put, broad jump, basketball, football throw, softball throw, anything that will make me more active so I can keep up with the younger crowd.”

Dawson also said he enjoys dancing.

“I don’t know if I’m any good or not, but I enjoy the heck out of myself,” he said. “I’m at the point now where I don’t care what I look like. All the things you were so worried about early on, you don’t care anymore, you just enjoy yourself.”

Dawson has been diagnosed with degenerative spinal arthritis, which could one day put him back in a wheelchair. If it does happen, he wants to feel like he’s done everything he wants to accomplish.

“Hopefully I won’t end up in a wheelchair again,” he said. “But before then, I’m going to do everything I can.”