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Thursday, March 27

Army Pfc. Joseph P. Dwyer carries a wounded child to safety March 25. (Warren Zinn/Army Times)

Soldier photographed carrying Iraqi child surprised at fame

By Robert Hodierne | Military Times

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

The soldier in the picture, Army Pfc. Joseph P. Dwyer, 26, is still in the field, about 80 miles outside Baghdad with his outfit in the 3rd Infantry Division. Initially, a superior had misidentified him, and early captions of the photograph bore the wrong name. And, until recently, Dwyer hadn't a clue that he was famous.

"Really, I was just one of a group of guys. I wasn't standing out more than anyone else,'' Dwyer said.

For his family back home, the photograph was proof that he was alive.

"It just made our day, just to know where he was,'' said his mother, Maureen Dwyer, in a telephone interview from her home in Wagram, N.C.

Joseph Dwyer was sent overseas from Fort Bliss, Texas, on March 15, exactly one month after marrying his fiancee, Matina, family members said.

On March 17, he called home. "He had only one call and he called his wife,'' Maureen Dwyer said. "And she called us to tell us where he was. All he said was he was going to Kuwait and that's where we thought he was, until the picture.''

Dwyer, one of six children, was raised in Mount Sinai on New York's Long Island and comes from a family of soldiers and policemen. His father is a retired New York transit policeman. Three brothers are policemen in the New York area. And his youngest brother recently enlisted in the Air Force and soon may be fighting overseas.

The Sept. 11 terrorist attacks hit close to home for Dwyer. One of his brothers lost a partner when the World Trade Center towers collapsed, and Dwyer believed that his brother also had been killed.

He learned his brother was safe when the two spoke that night, but Dwyer said, "I knew I had to do something.'' Two days later, he enlisted in the U.S. Army as a medic.

On 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.

At dawn, they were attacked again by Iraqi troops firing from tree lines on both sides of the road. The Americans fired back and called in airstrikes.

But an Iraqi family was caught in the crossfire. And when the fighting stopped, a man came running out, screaming that his family needed help.

Dwyer and several other soldiers ran to help. Dwyer reached the father and grabbed his son from him, cradling the young boy in a protective embrace as he raced back to safer ground.

The boy, perhaps about 4 years old, "grabbed right on to me, that was the weird thing,'' Dwyer said.

"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 said. "He was scared though, you could tell.''

Dwyer marveled at the family's faith in U.S. soldiers.

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,'' he said.The little boy had a broken left leg, but Dwyer said he would make a quick recovery.

It was the first time Dwyer had treated a war wound - work he had been eager to do, friends and family members said.

"He was hoping he wouldn't get stuck in a hospital because he was a medic,'' his mother Maureen Dwyer said. ``When we didn't hear from him, what I told everybody was, `If anything happens to him he's doing what he wants to do.'''

As gratifying as the encounter in Iraq was, it left Dwyer with questions about the boy's 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.''

Still, Dwyer said he supports the military's mission in Iraq.

"I know that people are going to be better for it. The whole world will be,'' he said. "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,'' he said. "Maybe they'd stop shooting.''


(Contributing: Charisse Jones, USA TODAY, and Jane McHugh, Army Times)