World War II Hero Preserved A 'Slice' Of 19th Century Life

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    Shown here are five of the 112 rare pen-and-ink drawings by Robert Browning Sr., as preserved by 1933 Baylor graduate Joe Dawson.
    Alan Hunt / Baylor Photography
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    Rita S. Patteson, assistant professor and librarian/curator of manuscripts at Armstrong Browning Library, with rare pen-and-ink drawings by Robert Browning Sr.
    Alan Hunt / Baylor Photography
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    Joe Dawson was decorated for bravery by Supreme Allied Commander General Dwight Eisenhower in 1944.
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    During a 1994 visit to Normandy, Joe Dawson looks over the bluff where he led U.S. troops away from the beach on D-Day. (Photo courtesy Roslyn Dawson)
Jan. 10, 2003

by Alan Hunt

From saving lives to saving treasured historical artifacts -- Joe Dawson did it all.

This famous 1933 Baylor graduate, who is credited with helping to save the lives of countless American troops during the D-Day invasion, was also believed responsible for the safe keeping of some rare original pen and ink drawings by Robert Browning, Sr., the father of famous English poet Robert Browning.

Dawson died in 1998 at the age of 84. His brother, Law Professor Emeritus Matt Dawson, recently discovered more than a hundred drawings tucked away in a drawer at his family home and has handed them over to Armstrong Browning Library.

"I was cleaning out a bunch of stuff, and I found these old drawings which looked as though they related to the Browning family." He said he believed they had been stored by his brother, Joe. "I hadn't seen them before. They were in an old file cover. Joe was extremely close to the (Dr. A.J.) Armstrong family and he more or less grew up with the Armstrong's son, Max. He even visited with Dr. Armstrong and his family when he came home on leave one time."

Armstrong, chair of Baylor's English department for more than 40 years, established the Browning Collection in 1918 and founded Armstrong Browning Library in 1951. He died in 1954, two days after his 81st birthday. Today, the library contains the world's largest collection of artifacts relating to poets Robert Browning and his wife, Elizabeth Barrett Browning.

The Browning drawings are mostly caricatures of people. "They probably represent a slice of daily life for Robert Browning Sr., depicting the people he met on a regular basis or people he happened to see," said Rita S. Patteson, assistant professor and librarian/curator of manuscripts at Armstrong Browning Library. "The drawings will make a wonderful display."

Patteson pointed out that the library already has on display a bound "Album of Caricatures" by Robert Browning Sr., containing similar pen and ink sketches of people, accompanied by his handwritten narrative comments. Robert Browning Sr. worked as a clerk for the Bank of England, and died in 1866. He maintained an extensive library at his home and constantly encouraged his son to become an avid reader.

Matt Dawson, who received both a bachelor's degree and a law degree from Baylor in 1938, hails from a family that boasts Baylor links spanning generations. According to Dawson, the upbringing he, his two brothers, Leighton and Joe, and two sisters, Alice and Donna, received would not have permitted it any other way. Their father was Dr. J.M. Dawson, a 1904 Baylor graduate and pastor of Waco's First Baptist Church for 32 years, and their mother was Willy Turner Dawson, after whom Baylor's Dawson Residence Hall was named.

Joe Dawson's heroic exploits in World War II are well documented, both in films and books about the conflict. Serving on D-Day (June 6, 1944) with his famed "Big Red One" -- the 1st Infantry Division, Capt. Dawson was credited with single-handedly opening up an escape route for American troops who were pinned down by German gunfire on Omaha Beach at Normandy. Although wounded in the knee and right leg, Joe Dawson finally used two hand grenades to wipe out an enemy machine-gun position, undoubtedly saving the lives of countless American soldiers.

In June 1994, Dawson revisited Normandy to salute his comrades and to introduce President Bill Clinton during ceremonies marking the 50th anniversary of the invasion. Dawson was praised by the President in his speech for securing "a foothold for freedom" by his brave actions.

Later in the war, Dawson commanded for 39 days a unit that successfully held a ridge overlooking the German city of Aachen -- beating off repeated enemy attacks and eventually allowing the Allied forces to take the city. Dawson's tenacity was such that the battleground later was named "Dawson's Ridge" in his honor. By the end of World War II, Dawson had been promoted to lieutenant colonel, and he commanded a battalion.

"Not a bad record for a man who enlisted as a buck-private," said Matt Dawson.

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