Joe Dwyer, Medic Hero, Dead

Joe Dwyer, made famous in a March 2003 Warren Zinn photo for his heroic service in Iraq, has died, apparently a casualty of that service.

Pfc. Joe Dwyer carried a young Iraqi boy who was injured during a heavy battle between the U.S. Army\'s 7th Cavalry Regiment and Iraqi forces near the village of Al Faysaliyah, Iraq, on March 25, 2003. Dwyer died of an apparent overdose at his home in North Carolina on June 29, 2008.

During the first week of the war in Iraq, a Military Times photographer captured the arresting image of Army Spc. Joseph Patrick Dwyer as he raced through a battle zone clutching a tiny Iraqi boy named Ali. The photo was hailed as a portrait of the heart behind the U.S. military machine, and Doc Dwyer’s concerned face graced the pages of newspapers across the country.

But rather than going on to enjoy the public affection for his act of heroism, he was consumed by the demons of combat stress he could not exorcise. For the medic who cared for the wounds of his combat buddies as they pushed toward Baghdad, the battle for his own health proved too much to bear.

On June 28, Dwyer, 31, died of an accidental overdose in his home in Pinehurst, N.C., after years of struggling with post-traumatic stress disorder. During that time, his marriage fell apart as he spiraled into substance abuse and depression. He found himself constantly struggling with the law, even as friends, Veterans Affairs personnel and the Army tried to help him. “Of course he was looked on as a hero here,” said Capt. Floyd Thomas of the Pinehurst Police Department. Still, “we’ve been dealing with him for over a year.”

The day he died, Dwyer apparently took pills and inhaled the fumes of an aerosol can in an act known as “huffing.” Thomas said Dwyer then called a taxi company for a ride to the hospital. When the driver arrived, “they had a conversation through the door [of Dwyer’s home],” Thomas said, but Dwyer could not let the driver in. The driver asked Dwyer if he should call the police. Dwyer said yes. When the police arrived, they asked him if they should break down the door. He again said yes. “It was down in one kick,” Thomas said. “They loaded him up onto a gurney, and that’s when he went code.”

Tragic.

John Cole, Logan Murphy, and Scarecrow make the perfectly reasonable point that such deaths are an inevitable price of war and that we must therefore fight only when doing so is unavoidable. That is, of course, true.

And, yes, of course, let’s do more to ensure we have the infrastructure in place to deal with those whose wounds are psychological rather than physical. We’ve made enormous strides in that regard in recent years, although not enough to deal with the enormity of the numbers we’ve sustained owing to our long-term involvements in Iraq and Afghanistan.

At the same time, let’s recall that men like Dwyer volunteer for military service and most see themselves as honorable men who performed their duty knowing the risks, not helpless victims. Let’s not dishonor them by pretending otherwise.

FILED UNDER: Iraq War, Military Affairs, Obituaries, , , , , , ,
James Joyner
About James Joyner
James Joyner is Professor and Department Head of Security Studies at Marine Corps University's Command and Staff College and a nonresident senior fellow at the Scowcroft Center for Strategy and Security at the Atlantic Council. He's a former Army officer and Desert Storm vet. Views expressed here are his own. Follow James on Twitter @DrJJoyner.

Comments

  1. Tlaloc says:

    At the same time, let’s recall that men like Dwyer volunteer for military service and most see themselves as honorable men who performed their duty knowing the risks, not helpless victims. Let’s not dishonor them by pretending otherwise.

    Well there’s an argument to be made that when the armed forces like to sell themselves not as a duty but as some glamorous thrill ride that these volunteers may not really know what they are getting themselves into.

    Probably less so for someone like Dwyer, whom I’m guessing was fairly educated before enrolling, but many military recruits, especially for the Army, are not exactly the top of the class students. ROTC is one thing but Army grunts aren’t well known for being Rhodes Scholars. And these days they don’t even have to have clean mental health or police records.

    So yeah, I think some of these kids are victims.

  2. capital L says:

    “And these days they don’t even have to have clean mental health or police records.”

    Yeah, as opposed the past 3000 or so years of human history where only the most sound of mind and pure of spirit served, and only voluntarily…

  3. Anderson says:

    Awful, of course.

    I wonder where Ali is nowadays?

  4. Todd Bensel says:

    I do not like the tone of this story and it’s high moral ground approach. Put a fact checker on this one, because it stinks to high heaven!

  5. cyr says:

    Tlaloc,

    Cut the BS. Today’s army is the most educated army in the history of this country. To suggest otherwise is ignorant at best, dishonest at worst.

    I’m sure there are a few who are ‘stupid’ and can’t read what they’re getting themselves into, just like all those ‘ignoramuses’ that bought houses with 2 year no interest loans back in 2006 before the market ate it (hint: they knew what they’re getting into, but gambled for a quick flip (or a time of no war, and free education for the army folks), and when it didn’t happen, they attempt to play stupid)

  6. Boyd says:

    While I suspect it to be the case in most of your comments, Tlaloc, you clearly have no idea what the hell you’re talking about. Here’s a flashlight. Pull your head out of your ass.

    Oh, and as a Navy veteran, I’ll thank you not to dance in the blood of one of my fallen comrades-in-arms.

    And just in case I’m not being clear enough, you disgust me.

  7. Tlaloc says:

    capital L:

    Yeah, as opposed the past 3000 or so years of human history where only the most sound of mind and pure of spirit served, and only voluntarily…

    Actually as opposed to the last few decades where the US government made it policy not to put them in uniform.

    cyr:

    Cut the BS. Today’s army is the most educated army in the history of this country.

    True, but since each new generation is the most educated in history (what with human knowledge doubling at an increasing rate) it is also trivial. Further our military has incorporated more and more specialists over time, which naturally skews the overall pool upwards. But notice whom I specifically mentioned- Army grunts. Not Navy or Airforce technology specialists.

    Boyd:

    Oh, and as a Navy veteran, I’ll thank you not to dance in the blood of one of my fallen comrades-in-arms.

    Dance in the blood? Well I guess if you can’t be accurate you can at least manage a little style.

    And just in case I’m not being clear enough, you disgust me.

    Given that you clearly have no idea what I’ve said- why should I care?