Defining Pictures
April 2003

by Robert Hodierne, Military Times Staff Writer

DOHA, QATAR (March 27, 2003) – The war in Iraq is only a week old and one photograph has already become an icon: A young, grimy GI in full battle gear, a look a deep concern on his face, carrying a wounded Iraqi child to safety.

The photograph has been on newspaper front pages around the world and broadcast on most American television networks. The military brass has mentioned it when they brief the press.

The soldier in the picture, Pfc. Joseph P. Dwyer, 26, is still in the field, about 80 miles outside Baghdad with his outfit in the 3rd Infantry Division. Until today, he hadn’t a clue that he was famous. His reaction when he found out? He laughed.

And couldn’t stop laughing. He was both amused by this and embarrassed.

“Really, I was just one of a group of guys. I wasn’t standing out more than anyone else,” he said. He paused and then, another big laugh, “The camera just loves me.”

Dwyer has lived the past six years in Wagram, N.C., where his mother and father moved after his father, a retired New York transit policeman, retired. Dwyer grew up in Mt. Sinai on New York’s Long Island. His three older brothers are New York City policeman. One brother lost a partner when the Trade Center towers collapsed.

“I mean everyone lost someone, a lot of good people,” he said, all laughter gone for the moment. He was sure his brother had been killed. “I thought he was gone.” But when he talked to him the night of Sept. 11 and knew his brother was safe, “I knew I had to do something.”

Two days later, Dwyer enlisted.

To become a medic.

“It was just what I could do at the time,” he said.

Last Tuesday morning when the now famous image of Dwyer was taken, his unit, the 3rd Squadron of the 7th Cavalry Regiment, had been ambushed repeatedly the night before as they worked their way north along the Euphrates River. Just as the sun was rising, they were ambushed again by Iraqi troops firing from tree lines on both sides of the road. The Americans fired back with everything they had and called in air strikes.

Caught in the crossfire was an Iraqi family. When the fighting stopped, the father came running out, screaming that his family needed help.

That’s where medic Dwyer enters in.

“It came over that there was a family that had some injuries,” he recalled. “We went on down there. It was kind of hectic at first. … We didn’t know what was going on. Who was friendly and who wasn’t.”

“We didn’t want to get too close to the village knowing that there could be possible enemy there,” he went on. “We saw him with the child. He came running out to where we had the hospital set up.”

And then, without making a big deal of it, he said that he and some other soldiers, guns at the ready, bolted from cover. “And I just ran and took the hand off and ran on in,” he said
And that’s when Army Times photographer Warren Zinn took the picture.

The boy, about four years old, “grabbed right onto to me, that was the weird thing,” he said. As he carried the boy to safety, he said, “The kid was doing alright. I could feel him breathing real hard and I was just carrying him and he didn’t cry one bit and you know he was a cute little kid. He was scared, though, you could tell.”

“You know, for (the father) to trust us to take his child over and know that we’d take care of him, maybe it’s just me being optimistic, but I think it was a good feeling knowing he trusted us to take care of his child.”

“It was a little kid. I have little nieces and nephews back home. … It was just a kid, it wasn’t an enemy. This is what I signed up to do, to help people.”

That day was the first time Dwyer treated any wounded. The little boy had a broken left leg but Dwyer thinks he’ll bounce back. But he wishes he could talk to the family.

“I wonder how they felt about us,” he said. “I mean if I was in their position, and this was going on, I’d be mad at me, you know, for being here. I don’t know. I wouldn’t mind being able to talk to him, that’s for sure.”

Dwyer is glad he’s in Iraq. “I know that people are going to be better for it. The whole world will be. I hope being here is positive because we’re a caring group of people out here. If they find that out that would be great. Maybe they’d stop shooting.”

© Robert Hodierne, Military Times Staff Writer

Also Read: Dispatches - D-Day +7, by Warren Zinn


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