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joseph p. dwyer

Photo by Julianne Mosher

After months of waiting for its official unveiling, the Joseph P. Dwyer statue was celebrated by local, state and federal representatives in an emotional event to honor the man who lost his life for a serious cause. 

On Saturday, June 26, at 11 a.m., people gathered at Rocky Point Veterans Memorial Square on the corner of Route 25A and Broadway where a bronze memorial statue of the late combat medic now stands. 

Dwyer attended elementary school at Infant Jesus in Port Jefferson and graduated from Mount Sinai High School in 1994. As a young man, he enjoyed playing golf and going fishing with his friends and family. After he left high school, Dwyer moved to North Carolina with his parents and was employed at a local hospital where he transported people who needed medical treatment. 

Known by his family as a sensitive and caring person, he enlisted in the Army on Sept. 12, 2001, immediately after the attacks on the World Trade Center.

After training in Georgia, and a stint at Fort Bliss, Texas, he was deployed to Iraq in 2003. He replaced a single mother, so that she was able to remain home with her child and was one of the first soldiers to enter Iraq during the war.

Dwyer became famous when a photo was published of him carrying a young, injured Iraqi boy during a battle on March 25, 2003. Army Times photographer Warren Zinn saw the situation unfold and clicked away as Dwyer met the boy’s father — who carried a white flag and his injured son to the soldier, eventually bringing the 4-year-old to safety.

His sister, Kristine Dwyer, said at Saturday’s event when the photo came out, he was modest about being in the center of it. 

“He was proud of what he did,” she said, “But he’d always say to give credit to Clark, the man who saved the little boy’s life.”

She added that she believes the notoriety was hard for her brother. 

“I think the attention was hard for him,” she said. “He would say, ‘We’re all doing the same thing over there.’”

When he came home, he began to struggle. Diagnosed with post-traumatic stress disorder, Dwyer became addicted to inhaling fumes from a computer cleaner aerosol. On June 28, 2008, at age 31, he overdosed accidentally, dying in North Carolina. 

Thirteen years from the date of his death, members from his family and officials honored Dwyer and the impact his death had on the veteran community. 

Congressman Lee Zeldin (R-NY1) became instrumental in helping fund the Dwyer Program — a peer-to-peer support program for veterans suffering from PTSD and traumatic brain injury. The program has received bipartisan support and is looking to go national.

Kristine said her brother would have been proud to know that his name now helps veterans across the country today.

“Something good came out of it,” she said. “Something now is here that he didn’t have, that he most likely would have been a part of, where they can feel comfortable and talk about what they saw. That’s so important to have other people say, ‘You know, me too.” He knew he was loved. His family loved him … but if only love was enough.”

The statue took years to complete and, with the help of Town of Brookhaven officials, it was finally finished earlier this year. Councilwoman Jane Bonner (R-Rocky Point) said the patch of land, which was deemed an eyesore, now is the home of a place where families can come together.

“One of the interesting things about this square is that it has become a reverent place for people to come and reflect,” she said. “You’ll find a memento from a family or a loved one in front of the flag from that branch of service.”

Bonner said the park’s purpose is to honor and pay respect to veterans past, present and future. 

“It’s to acknowledge that our veterans sit at home now and may not have obvious war injuries,” she said. “They have other injuries that you can’t see. And the foundations and the organizations, that provide health, counseling and services to those veterans so they can lead a full and productive life, deserve the biggest hat tip possible because there’s no greater service than the service to our country.”

Town Supervisor Ed Romaine (R) thanked the local VFW Post 6249 for their help in creating this sacred space. 

“Without their efforts, without their drive, the statute would not be standing here today,” he said. “Their vision has made this possible and, today, we honor the memory of man — we honor his service, we honor a program that helps our veterans that was named for him.”