Horrified by the 9/11 attacks, Joseph Dwyer enlisted in the army two days later.
The New York native was one of thousands of Americans who enlisted during those traumatic days. One of thousands who would end up getting shipped to Iraq despite the fact that the 9/11 mastermind, Osama bin Laden, was said to be in Afghanistan.
His name would have been virtually unknown had he not been captured in a photograph saving an Iraqi child from the crossfire during a battle in 2003.
(Army Times/ Warren Zinn)
The photo became world famous and so did Dwyer, who was hailed as a hero. A symbol of good in a controversial war.
But like many soldiers, the war had taken its toll on Dwyer. He returned to the United States with a severe case of post-traumatic stress syndrome and struggled with drug abuse, marital breakdown, unemployment and severe psychiatric episodes.
He was in and out of psychiatric care, once being committed after he started firing at imagined attackers inside his home, leading to a three-hour police siege. He had also crashed his car several times after swerving to avoid imagined roadside bombs.
His life began to resemble the life of Ira Hayes, another soldier who was hailed as a hero after being captured in a photo that became world famous. Hayes was further immortalized in the song sung by Johnny Cash, The Ballad of Ira Hayes.
(AP/ Joe Rosenthal)
Ira Hayes died in 1955, 10 years after returning from World War II; his postwar life troubled by depression, alcoholism and run-ins with police. He died in a pool of his own vomit after a night of drinking. He was 32 years old.
Joseph Dwyer died June 28th, three years after returning from the Iraq War; his life troubled by depression, addiction and run-ins with police. He died after inhaling fumes from a computer cleaner aerosol. He was 31 years old.
Government statistics would never dare list these men as war casualties; nor would they dare list as casualties the countless other veterans battling demons long after leaving the battlefield.
But government statistics lie.