portrait of a fallen hero

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.

Read a compelling account of Dwyer’s 2003 war experience in USA Today.

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 culde-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.



About writemyline

Ride like a knight. Write like a warrior.
This entry was posted in closer to home, heros, local. Bookmark the permalink.

9 Responses to portrait of a fallen hero

  1. Jim Buie says:

    Very touching piece and very sad news. Thanks for posting this.


  2. Mark Colleluori says:

    Thank you for the articl on Joe Dwyer. My condolences to his family. What a shame that we have lost such a heroic patrot at such a young age. God Bless him, his brothers and sisters in arms and their families. – Mark Colleluori

  3. Lady Sharon says:

    Joseph Dwyer must have been very strong to have survived and helped so many in Iraq. It is tragic that when he fell he did not have the a medic to help him stand.

    Just as burns scar the skin, so does war scar the mind and heart. Even those who loved him the most could not erase those wounds.

    Today CNN wrote an article about Joseph at
    Thank you for posting this moving tribute to a courageous man who saw too much suffering.

    It must be very difficult for his family and friends to know how he suffered. I pray he is at peace now.

  4. ARMY MOM says:


  5. writemyline says:

    Dear Army Mom,
    I am so very sorry for your loss. Prayers of peace surround your son, you, and your family.
    Yours, wml

  6. writemyline says:

    Dear Lady Sharon,
    Thank you so much for providing the CNN link to Joseph Dwyer’s story. I always welcome and appreciate your comments and info. I send my love to Camelot…
    Yours, Deb

  7. Kris says:

    Thank you so much for sharing. What a shame that our soldiers fall through the cracks. God Bless all of our soldiers and their families.

  8. Misty Bullard says:

    Here’s to the ones we’ve loved and miss.
    The ones we can’t put upon our list.
    The ones who made our Christmas bright.
    The ones we can’t tuck in that special night.
    The ones we lost for unknown reasons.
    There’s a memory in every season.
    The ones that bring a Christmas tear.
    That sometimes carries on through the year.
    The ones who we can never replace.
    That add those holiday smiles on our face.
    The ones who gave their lives at war.
    That make you wonder exactly, what for?
    The ones who paid the highest price.
    To help protect another’s life.
    Christmas is a time for rejoicing and joy,
    And so that you’ll know I miss my little boy,
    This comes as a Christmas thought for him and the others.
    This comes from all of the hurting mothers.
    It’s supposed to get better as time goes by.
    So how come Christmas always makes me cry?
    I know that your in a better place,
    So I cry with a smile upon my face.
    Cause I know that in spirit, that your right here.
    And the bible makes it so perfectly clear.
    I will see you someday during all of the seasons.
    And even though it hurts, you died for a reason.
    The Christmas tears all come from me missing you,
    And I know without a doubt you miss me too.
    So rather than spend this holiday blue,
    I sat down and wrote these thoughts for you.
    I’ll rejoice what you were, and always will be.
    And I’ll leave you a present under the tree.
    Merry Christmas SON.
    MMB “08”
    Written by Misty Bullard
    P.O. Box 450801
    Grove, OK 74345
    I am not a Mom of a fallen Hero of War, but ofa fallen Hero of Duchenne’s Muscular Dystrophy, and while writing this poem I thought if all the Mom’s that are hurting this season, so I decided to share these thoughts with them as well.

  9. writemyline says:

    Thank you for posting the lovely poem. I’m sure it speaks to many moms out there…
    Blessings to you.

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