photo credit Warren Zinn/Army Times
Joseph Patrick Dwyer became the face of the Home Town Hero. After the terrorist attacks of 9/11/2001, he enlisted in the US Army. He served as a private first-class medic with the 7th Calvary, attached to the Army's 3rd Division.
Dwyer, a private first-class medic, became an image of the Iraq war after a picture showing him carrying an injured Iraqi boy away from a fire fight ran on the front page of several newspapers in 2003, just after the invasion of Iraq by coalition forces.
Despite his insistence that he was the face of every soldier, Dwyer became famous. His wife and brother flew to New York to accept a Home Town Hero award from John Walsh.
When he returned to the States in June of 2003, he told the Pilot spoke with him about what led up to the picture, and how he felt about being recognized as a Home Town Hero.
Dwyer is still uncomfortable about being famous. He emphasizes that he was just one of 14 men who made up his outfit, which is part of the 3rd Infantry Division.
Asked how he feels about being a symbol, he said, “Embarrassed, I guess. There were 13 other men. Maj. [Todd] Albright was the one who really saved that kid.”
What happened that day, according to published reports, was that Dwyer’s outfit had run into several ambushes throughout the night in its position near the Euphrates River. In the morning, the unit was ambushed again and engaged in a skirmish with some Iraqis hiding in at the tree line on both sides of the road.
In between the two forces was an Iraqi family. Somehow, the boy, probably about 4, suffered a broken leg. When the dust settled, the boy’s father brought him directly to Dwyer, who sped him off to the mobile field hospital.
That’s when a photographer captured the image. Dwyer didn’t know how big it had gotten until he returned to the States, he says. He thought that maybe he was going to be in trouble with his wife, because he had told her that he was going to be stationed in Kuwait.
Dwyer earned a Combat Medical Badge, or CMB, which is only awarded to those who give medical support when infantry is under direct fire.
According to Dwyer's wife, Matina, Dwyer never really came home. He sought help for Post Traumatic Stress Disorder. She told The Pilot:
He never regretted going over there, doing what he did. He couldn't actually come home. He was still there in his mind.
5 years later, he was still there in his mind.
According to the police report, Dwyer called a taxi company Saturday to take him to the hospital. When the driver from Sandhills Transportation arrived, she found him lying on the floor, unable to come to the door.
Sandhills Transportation then called the Pinehurst Police Department. Officers arrived shortly after 7 p.m. The report says that Dwyer called from inside the house, "Help me, please! I'm dying. Help me. I can't breathe!"
Officers asked Dwyer to come to the door, but he said he couldn't. They asked him if he wanted them to break in. He said, "Yes, please."
They kicked the door down, and paramedics came to his aid. Officers helped lift Dwyer onto the stretcher and were pushing him into the back of the ambulance when one of them noticed that his eyes became "fixated and glassy," the report says.
Paramedics started cardiopulmonary resuscitation as he was loaded into the ambulance. He was pronounced dead at 7:48 p.m.