Veteran, 92, took his last stand defending his wife
He died at age 92, however, by making the ultimate sacrifice for his wife of 72 years by battling a home intruder.
As a leader in his American Legion post, as a longtime churchman and as a father of two (Ricky and Peggy), grandfather of seven, great-grandfather of 16 and great-great-grandfather of six, he was "a truly remarkable man," his pastor, Jerry Speer, said at Dawson's Oct. 1 funeral.
"Everyone has focused on how he died," said Speer, of Northside Baptist Church in Columbus, Ga., but "it is more important to know how he lived, where he is, and what that means."
The alleged assailant, Darius Jamar Travick, wearing only boxer shorts and shoes, stabbed Dawson multiple times and brutalized his wife Virginia, leaving her with a concussion and facial injuries, then attacked two neighbors after exiting the Dawsons' home.
Travick was arrested when police arrived as he sat in the car of his grandmother, who lived nearby. He is being held at the local Muscogee County Jail without bond. A defense attorney told the media Travick will be examined for mental health issues.
Speer often addresses the "Why?" question regarding the horror inflicted on the Dawsons, who had lost a grandson in a murder a month earlier in California.
"There are whys that we will never know the answers to," the pastor told Baptist Press. "What we need to focus on are the things we do know."
"We do know that John was a Christian. We do know that he had a faith in a Savior who loved him and died for him.
"We know that those who accept Jesus as their Savior, being absent from the body [in death], are present with the Lord.
"We don't make the instance of how he died the issue. We know that he died. And the truth is, if Jesus tarries, we'll all die. … There are a lot of ways a person could die. Sickness is certainly one of them, and that's how older people expect to die. John Dawson went out fighting for his love, his wife.... Just knowing John, if you've got to die, that would be a favored way rather than laying in a hospital bed.
"The important thing is: Have we made the right decisions to get us where we need to be when we die?" Speer said, noting that it's "Jesus who brings hope to the situation."
Wife's legacy continues
Speer said Virginia Dawson is "very grieved to be separated from the love of her life, not unlike most other people in a situation like this. She's 89 years old. This will always be part of her life. But she had a remarkable sense of humor, she has a very strong faith and she knows God is going to take care of things.
"These were every-Sunday people," Speer said. "When they were younger, they were every-service people" at Northside Baptist where they had been members since 1995. They held hands crossing the parking lot and gave each other a brief kiss before going to their respective Sunday School classes.
After being released from the hospital, Virginia has been staying with a granddaughter and is back in church.
"Her Sunday School class is staying in touch with her. The church is staying in touch her. She knows that we are praying for her," Speer said.
John and Virginia "held everybody else in their family together" as their "refuge and strength" and a source of wisdom and counsel, the pastor added. "She is very much a part of that as John was."
John, then 21 on a brief leave from the Navy, met 18-year-old Virginia as they were riding bikes in the Beallwood community of Columbus. According to a remembrance by a granddaughter, he proposed on the front porch of his future mother-in-law's house a year later and they were married at a Baptist church with 10 people in attendance.
During his deployments, John kept in touch with Virginia through ship-to-shore ham radio in the early morning hours. When they were together, the granddaughter wrote, "They would dance all the time, by themselves in their home, in their children's homes and grandchildren's homes, and out on the town!"
Dawson retired after 26 years in the Navy with the rank of Senior Chief Petty Officer and the recipient of several medals.
Speer, addressing Dawson's character, said, "There was a time that he drank fairly extensively. When he became a Christian he knew that he had to separate himself from alcohol, which he did.
"But he saw the damage that alcohol caused in others so much that he determined he would do what he could to push people away from it."
When he became president of his American Legion post, located just across the state line in Alabama, "The men took a stand with him to not serve alcohol," Speer said. "As long as he was a member, they did not serve alcohol." In 2011, he was named as Alabama's "Veteran of the Year."
Dawson was known for helping veterans any way he could at both the American Legion and the local Veterans of Foreign Wars post. One of his favorite songs was the Vietnam-era "Green Green Grass of Home." He loved chocolates and his wife's cornbread. During his military career, the family lived in seven states, and they once had a camper for vacations. He enjoyed woodworking, especially making outdoor holiday decorations, along with gardening, fishing and bowling. And he watched Atlanta Braves baseball games.
The couple stayed current with the news and voted in each election. Dawson led the Pledge of Allegiance at each senior adult gathering at Northside Baptist.
"John was a guy who loved his nation. He was a fine example of The Greatest Generation, as his wife is," Speer said. "He put his life on the line time and time again in three wars for his country and was willing to do whatever it took for the flag to continue to wave -- but also for people to know his Lord.
"If you want to follow the example of an individual, he's not a bad one to choose, because if you follow him, then you will find yourself at the feet of Jesus."