A Hero Lost in the Battle with PTSD

“He was certainly a hero…

 He did have some difficulty dealing with it,”

Jean Offutt, a Fort Bliss spokesperson

News came today that we lost another hero, not on a bloody battlefield in Iraq, although he had served there, but instead back home in Texas where he should have been safe. No, after all he had been through, it was not gunfire or an IED or even friendly fire that killed former Army Spc. Joseph Dwyer. Instead, he died late last month of a drug overdose. Dwyer’s friends say he, like thousands of other veterans, suffered from post traumatic stress disorder.

Actually, you might have recognized Specialist Dwyer if you had met him. While he was serving in Iraq, back here at home he was hailed as hero after a photo of him carrying a wounded Iraqi child to safety in Iraq was front page news in many American newspapers. The full  story about his death that appeared this week in the El Paso newspaper is heart-breaking: it seems since his return from Iraq, Dwyer had suffered repeated bouts of PTSD related violence, a flashback induced car accident and trouble with the drugs he took.

When we come face to face with the tragedies of this war, it is easy to blame a host of villains, not the least of which are the military-industrialists who have served as our country’s executive branch for the past eight years. That said, as someone who embraces the idea of our personal connection to the Greater Good, I hope we can use such news for introspection. I am returned to questions I have considered in my poetry and on this blog: when it comes to war or a host of other man-made tragedies in the world, which of us is blameless? Aren’t we all partially responsible? Not only for Army Specialists Dwyer’s death, the deaths of thousands of other American soldiers, the deaths of hundreds of thousands of Iraqi and Afghani families and finally for the whole idea of “us” vs. “them”?

How can someone who is not even involved be responsible, you may ask? Think about it:

  • After 9-11, we, Americans, allowed fear to replace reason, hate to replace faith, revenge to replace compassion.
  • That attitude emboldened our leaders to rush to war in Afghanistan in the name of finding Osama bin Laden.
  • Exhilirated by those battles and tempted by Saddam Hussein, the war spilled over into the towns and cities of Iraq.
  • When terrorists and insurgents from outside Iraq joined the fray, the war became a quagmire of suicide bombers, house-to-house fighting, civilian casualties and deaths–hundreds of thousands of deaths.
  • That fighting in Iraq required more and more soldiers, some from other countries but many of whom were American National Guardsmen who never intended to go to war and others who were sent back again and again.
  • In an effort to stop the fighting, our elected officials authorized torture and then used the erroneous information gained from those tortured to escalate the war and put at risk America’s stature as a benevolent world leader.
  • And in the midst of all that, young soldiers, experienced soldiers, civilians and children witnessed horrible, unforgettable brutalities that turned their lives into living nightmares and sometimes suicides.

All of us are responsible in small and large ways for these developments. For all of us, who stood by in the face of violent imperialism, going about our comfortable lives, ignoring the news from the Middle East, hoping things would get better, not sending our daughters and sons to war, not calling our president to accountability…for all of us, today there is the death of Specialist Dwyer to remind us that all of us must share the blame.

So what now? Is there hope for us?

Of course, there is. There is always hope.

  • We can begin by resisting the dangers of hate, revenge, anger and violence.
  • We can personally reach out to those in our lives who need our help, especially soldiers returning home and their families.
  • We can vote our core values and insist that War Is Not the Answer.
  • We can choose the Greater Good over personal gain in instances small and large.
  • We can honor Joseph Dwyer and all those who have borne the wounds of war by paying attention!

Best of all, we can live out the words to a song borne from another war:


None of us are blameless, but the future belongs to us.

When We Live As Peacemakers, We Can Be a Blessing!

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