I received some very sad news earlier this week about a local young soldier with ties to my own neighborhood.
Joseph Dwyer, who enlisted just two days after the terrorist attacks on September 11, 2001, served as a Army medic in Iraq. Joseph became a national hero when, in 2003, USA Today published a front-page photo (taken by Army Times photographer Warren Zinn) of the soldier carrying an Iraqi boy in his arms to safety. The image spread to other publications and as a result, the photo became “a visual symbol for the Army’s effort in Iraq.” The newspaper photo was posted at the community mailbox in my neighborhood development for months.
Newsday describes Dwyer’s experience in Iraq: “During his 92 days in Iraq, Dwyer was attached temporarily to the 3rd Squadron of the 7th Cavalry Regiment of the 3rd Infantry Division. The unit scouted for the division which saw heavy combat in the first days of the war as U.S. forces swiftly moved north from Kuwait to Baghdad. One Army officer called the unit “the tip of the tip of the spear.” Dwyer was presented the Army’s Combat Medical Badge for his courageous service. It is only awarded to those medics who serve with infantry under direct fire and who engaged in active ground combat.
Joseph came home from Iraq in June 2003 to see his family in North Carolina and New York. In my neighborhood, red, white, and blue streamers, banners, and posters lined the gated entrance to welcome him home and to let him know we were proud of him and appreciated his service–a well-deserved hero’s homecoming. Everyone I know in the neighborhood was very excited to welcome him home to NC. But a part of Joseph was still in Iraq and would continue to be on a battlefield, day and night, for five years.
It was the prolonged violent and dangerous intensity of war that imprinted the young soldier with post-traumatic stress disorder, or PTSD. On Saturday, June 28th, 2008, Joseph Dwyer’s hand-to-hand combat with PTSD came to a tragic end.
I learned of Dwyer’s death two days ago when I saw a note posted at the community mailbox. The notice hung in the same spot as the USA Today front-page photo had been five years ago. It was a sorrowful moment. Although I did not know Joseph personally, I had met his mother last year when she was collecting Christmas cookies to send to the troops in Iraq. She told me and a neighbor about her son’s PTSD and that she was hopeful he would recover soon. I had Joseph’s name added to the prayer list at church the very next day.
Our neighborhood has a July 4th tradition that includes a parade, a big spread at the clubhouse, and a fireworks display over the lake after dark. It’s a day when cul–de-sacs and next-door neighbors get together to enjoy the “patriotic” goodness and fellowship of family and friends. Tomorrow, however, my mindfulness of patriotism will be bittersweet as I remember the front-page photo that put a face on sacrifice and freedom close to home.
I will remember a fallen hero.