Iraq Vet in Famous Press Photo Dies from Overdose

By: Greg Mitchell and The Associated Press

A former Army medic made famous by a photograph that showed him carrying an injured Iraqi boy during the first week of the war has died of an apparent overdose, police said.

Joseph Patrick Dwyer died last week at a hospital in Pinehurst, according to the Boles Funeral Home. He was 31.

The photograph, taken in March 2003, showed Dwyer running to a makeshift military hospital while cradling the boy. The photo appeared in newspapers, magazines and television broadcasts worldwide, making Dwyer became a symbol of heroism.

Dwyer laughed when a reporter told him of the photo and its widespread circulation, and he tried to deflect focus to his entire unit. His mother, Maureen, said then that the photo embarrassed her son because it singled him out while other soldiers were doing the same thing.

Last week, Dwyer called a local taxi service to take him to the hospital after an apparent overdose, Capt. Floyd Thomas of the Pinehurst Police Department told the Fayetteville Observer. When the driver arrived, Dwyer said he couldn’t get to the door, according to a police report.

Police kicked in the door at Dwyer’s request, and he was taken by ambulance to a Pinehurst hospital. Thomas said bottles of prescription pills were found near Dwyer when police arrived. The former medic died later the night of June 28, according to authorities.

Dwyer served with the 3rd Squadron of the 7th Cavalry Regiment of Fort Stewart, Ga. He earned the Combat Medical Badge and other military awards.

His mother said the military could have done more to help with post-traumatic stress. “He just couldn’t get over the war,” Maureen Dwyer said. “He just couldn’t do it. Just wasn’t Joseph. Joseph never came home.”

His wife, Matina, said: “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.”

She told a reporter that she hoped that her husband?s death would bring more attention to PTSD issues.

Kelly Kennedy, who has won wide praise for her coverage of the war and problems faced by returning soldiers, added details in her account for Military Times. An excerpt follows.
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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 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 he returned from war after three months in Iraq, he developed the classic, treatable symptoms of PTSD. like so many other combat vets, he didn?t seek help. In restaurants, he sat with his back to the wall. He avoided crowds. He stayed away from friends. He abused inhalants, he told Newsday. In 2005, he and his family talked with Newsday to try to help other service members who might need help. He talked with the paper from a psychiatric ward at Fort Bliss, Texas, where he was committed after his first run-in with the police.

In October 2005, he thought there were Iraqis outside his window in El Paso, Texas. When he heard a noise, he started shooting. Three hours later, police enticed him to come out and no one was injured.
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Greg Mitchell’s new book includes several chapters on the plight of Iraq vets. It is “So Wrong for So Long: How the Press, the Pundits — and the President — Failed on Iraq.”

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