An Iraq War Hero’s Death: A Reminder To Us All

A photograph of PFC Joseph Dwyer in Iraq made him an American hero, but five years after returning home, mental combat wounds drove him to his death. He is not alone.

In 2009, more than twice as many soldiers died by their own hands than were killed by the enemy in Iraq.

Shortly after 9/11, Joe Dwyer enlisted in the US Army, where he would become a medic. During the invasion of Iraq, a photograph of him helping a wounded Iraqi boy turned him into a national hero.

When he returned home, Dwyer could not let go of the things he had witnessed in Iraq. He experienced trouble communicating and sleeping, and he started inhaling Dust-Off, an aerosol spray meant to clean electronic equipment that is also abused as a sedative.

Dwyer often believed he was still somehow in a combat zone. Police were repeatedly called to the Pinehurst, North Carolina address where the 31-year-old Joe Dwyer barricaded himself in his house, where he kept several pistols and a semiautomatic rifle. At one point, he fired at police officers outside his house believing they were Iraqi insurgents.

June 2008, though, the officers broke down the door. Once inside, they found Dwyer lying on the ground, covered in feces and urine, gasping for air. “Help me!” the young man begged the officers. “I can’t breathe.” Surrounding him were dozens of empty cans of Dust-Off.

Iraq war vets still hold service to honor Dwyer who died June 2008 while being taken to a hospital after inhaling too much of the Dust-Off.

His story paints a haunting picture of the anguish of US soldiers returning to America from Iraq and Afghanistan with the mental wounds of war.

Before going to war, Dwyer was stationed at Fort Bliss, where he was close to Dionne Knapp and two other soldiers. When Knapp got her orders to go to Iraq, Dwyer volunteered to take her place. After his death, Knapp believes that the military turned its back on him and failed to provide him with the psychological care he needed.


The Iraq War should never have been started, and President Bush and Vice-President Cheney should stand trial for their crimes.

But… the men and women who believed the Commander-In-Chief’s lies and followed his orders for preemptive invasion deserve this nation’s care, respect, love, and any and all medical and psychological treatments needed on demand.

Dwyer’s agony and death should weigh on George W. Bush’s conscience, yet we know it does not.

It should weigh on the nation’s conscience, and I hope we will be more expressive.

It weighs on my conscience, and I think of you who fought and were killed, fought and were maimed, fought and were scarred, and continue to fight to live.


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