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.
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.”
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.