Most Americans know who Joe
Dwyer is, although many may not know his name or his story. The now
famous photo shown in this note brought Joe into each of our homes. Our
hearts hurt for him and for the little boy that he carried in his arms.
He was a hero, risking his life to save an Iraqi boy.
June 28th, 2008 Joe Dwyer passed from this world due to an accidental
overdose. He had battled PTSD every day since returning from deployment.
His marriage failed and he struggled with drug addiction, substance
abuse and depression.
For the last five years of his life
this soldier, writhed in a private hell, shooting at imaginary enemies
and dodging nonexistent roadside bombs, sleeping in a closet bunker and
trying desperately to huff away the "demons" in his head. When his
personal problems became public, efforts were made to help him, but
nothing seemed to work.
Joe served with the 3rd Squadron,
7th Cavalry Regiment as a medic. According to his accounts of that
deployment he only recalled four days that lacked gunfire. The day prior
to the now famous picture, Dwyer’s HumVee was hit be a rocket.
the day of the photo, Joe watched as little Ali’s family was caught in
crossfire; he grabbed the little boy and carried him to safety. We all
saw Joe as a hero, but he did not see it that way. He said this about
it. “Really, I was just one of a group of guys, I wasn’t standing out
more than anyone else.”
Joe joined the military after
watching the twin towers fall. He felt that he had to do something. He
married the love of his life just prior to deploying to Iraq. They
looked forward to building a life together but something went terribly
wrong. Upon his return, like so many combat veterans, Joe just tried to
keep it together on his own. He sat with his back to the wall in
restaurants; he avoided crowds, he stayed distant from his friends and
loved ones. He began to abuse inhalants.
In October of
2005 he had his first run in with the police. Convinced that there were
Iraqi’s outside his window he opened fire. Three hours later police
convinced him to surrender and come out. He was taken to the hospital.
He tried counseling and was in and out of the hospital many times.
the day he died he and his wife had been apart for a year. She told the
Pinehurst Pilot, “He was a very good and caring person. He was just
never the same when he came back, because of all the things he saw. He
tried to seek treatment, but it didn’t work.”
Joe left behind his wife Matina and his then two-year-old daughter Meagan.
many may not know about Joe is that he went to Iraq, taking the place
of a friend, a mother of two who was terrified about leaving her
children. He convinced superiors to allow him to go in her stead. He
told his family and his young wife that he would be in Kuwait and likely
to stay in the rear, but unbeknownst to them he was attached to the 3rd
Infantry's 7th Cavalry Regiment. He was at "the tip of the tip of the
spear," in one officer's phrase.
The man who took this
famous photo said this after Joe’s death:” I don't know that the
photograph of Joseph was the best one I ever took, or my favorite, but I
think it represented something important. At the time, it represented
hope. Hope that what we were doing as a nation in Iraq was the right
thing. Hope that our soldiers were helping people. Hope that soldiers
such as Joseph cared more about human life than anything else. But now
when I look at the picture, it doesn't feel hopeful. It makes me realize
that so many soldiers are physically torn and in such mental anguish
that for some of them, hope has turned to hopelessness. That, I have to
believe, is what happened to Joseph Dwyer, who was haunted by the ghosts
of what he'd seen in Iraq, by fears he had lived with for too long. He
could never leave the battlefield behind.”
and brave but broken man had once been the embodiment of American might
and compassion. And yet we lost him…….I ask why….and I ask each of you
to read and study the very real and hostile illness called PTSD. Be
aware of the signs, be aware and watch your sons, your husbands, your
brothers, your daughters and your wives and your sisters as they return
Be aware of the symptoms, be understanding,
for there is so much that they see and experience that haunts them. It
really is not that hard to understand. I do not believe that it requires
us to experience what they experience in order to understand. We need
to equip ourselves with knowledge and we need to seek any and all help
available if our loved ones are struggling from this horrible condition.
do not have to lose others, like we lost Joe, thanks to him and others
like him there is now awareness and a multitude of programs to assist.
There is also less stigma associated with PTSD and our combat veterans
are now able to step out and say they need help, that they suffer from
it, where in the past this was not so, many were ridiculed, or their
careers were jeopardized by any such admission.
thank you so very much for all that you gave up for us, for volunteering
after 9/11, for being the kind of man willing to take the place of a
friend, so that she could stay with her children, for all the aid and
comfort you brought to your comrades, who fought in the bloodiest time
period in Iraq. I am so very sorry that your desire and willingness to
help others cost you your life, and I am so very sorry that we let you
down. Rest in peace Joe Dwyer, for you are a hero, not because of a
photo that brought you into our homes, but because of the man that you
were, a man willing to sacrifice himself in our place, and a man willing
to take aid and comfort to our wounded, even if it brought you into
great danger. Rest Joe, we remember and we will do all that we can to
make sure your brothers receive the help and support that they need.
Must read follow up from the reporter who took the famous photo : http://blog.cleveland.com/pdopinion/2008/07/my_photograph_made_joseph_dwye.html
Service dogs: http://www.mentalhelp.net/poc/view_doc.php?type=doc&id=28873
Training your own service dog: http://servicedawgs.org/training/articles/steps.htm
If you need to talk to someone about PTSD
PTSD Hotline: 1-800-273-8255 Press 1 for Veterans.
National Institute of Mental Health's Anxiety Hotline-1-888-826-9438