The entranceway into the Army Times newsroom is lined with over-sized photos of service members in action, lifting a raft together, firing an artillery shell or embracing a loved one. But the most arresting of these to me has been a photograph of a medic named Spc. Joseph Patrick Dwyer, running heroically through a battle, carrying a pants-less Iraqi boy named Ali. To many, it may be familiar, but I did not know its origins.
The photo was taken for Military Times by photographer Warren Zinn on March 23, 2003, the early days of the war in Iraq, on the day after Dwyer’s humvee was hit by a rocket. The photo, which ran on the front page of USA Today, contains so much–chiefly Dwyer’s strength and heroism, and Ali’s fear and vulnerability.
Though I walked by the photo every day, I didn’t know who that soldier was or what became of him until I happened across these stories from 2008. Dwyer died at 31 years old of an accidental overdose in his home in Pinehurst, N.C., after a long battle with post-traumatic stress. Kelly Kennedy and Gina Cavallaro reported then that Dwyer suffered through a downward spiral into substance abuse, depression and run-ins with the law. On the day he died, he had taken pills and been huffing aerosol fumes.
His wife, Matina Dwyer, 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.” It is all tragically familiar.
Though the Army’s day-long stand-down for suicide prevention training was scheduled for last week, many soldiers will probably never forget suicide’s toll on their friends and colleagues. Now I have a reminder too, walking through the hall into work each day. It happens even to the heroes.