EDITORIAL: The Tragic Story of Joseph Dwyer
The story of Joseph Patrick Dwyer is enough to bring a tear to the coldest eye and break the hardest heart.
Dwyer was an American hero -- but one who was acutely uncomfortable with that designation and unable to come to emotional terms with the hellish battlefield experiences that had led to it. In life, he unwillingly became an early emblem of the war in Iraq. In his untimely and tragic death, he has now become a symbol of our nation's failure to do an adequate job of what Lincoln called "caring for him who shall have borne the battle."
Dwyer was still in his 20s when the airliners flew into the Twin Towers. He immediately did a heroic thing: He went down and joined the U.S. Army. And he did so not out of a burning desire to wreak revenge on the hatred-maddened terrorists who had perpetrated that attack, but rather from a simple, humane wish to help those who he knew would bear the battles that were sure to come. He signed up as a medic.
'Something He Had to Do'
"He was a very good and caring person," his wife Matina told reporter Matthew Moriarty -- who, with John Chappell, wrote the compelling story that appeared in Wednesday's issue of The Pilot. "He felt like it was something he had to do."
On a day in March 2003, with the war in Iraq scarcely a week old, Dwyer was serving with the Army's 3rd Infantry Regiment, which had reached the Euphrates River. After a fierce fire fight, an Iraqi father emerged from a house waving a white flag and shouting that his son had been wounded in the crossfire.
Without hesitation, Dwyer ran to the man, snatched up the terrified child and carried him toward a small American field hospital. Army Times photographer Warren Zinn happened to be in the right place at the right time to snap a photo of that scene of mercy in the midst of carnage, and it made front pages and evening news broadcasts around the world.
Too Much to Cope With
Thus Dwyer found himself thrust into the spotlight in a way that he was not prepared to handle -- and this at a time when he was already struggling to come to terms with the nightmarish scenes he had witnessed in combat. His wife told The Pilot that he "was just not the same when he came back, because of the things he saw," and that he "tried to seek treatment but it didn't work."
It is an all-too-familiar story in the annals of war. Just as the photo of Dwyer carrying the frightened child became almost as celebrated as the classic World War II picture of U.S. Marines raising the flag on Iwo Jima, the account of Joseph Dwyer's descent into a personal postwar hell is sadly reminiscent of what happened to one of the flag-raisers, Ira Hayes. They called it battle fatigue then. It's no easier to handle now that we call it post-traumatic stress disorder.
This almost unbearably moving story takes on the elements of classic tragedy. Joseph Dwyer was a good man who went off to war with the noblest of intentions and was brought lower than any good man deserves. It's a cliche to say so, but let's all hope and pray that he has now found the peace that so long eluded him.
More like this story