An Arresting Image

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Army medic Joseph Dwyer with wounded 4-year-old Iraqi Ali Sattar in 2003. Dwyer struggled with PTSD and later died of substance abuse. AP Photo/Warren Zinn, The Army Times Co. hide caption

itoggle caption AP Photo/Warren Zinn, The Army Times Co.

Shooting a war can be brutal. Photojournalists see many of the things the soldiers see, and at the end of the day, they take their rolls of film — or, more likely, compact flash cards — and re-live everything they shot. Sometimes, a combination of skill and luck leaves the photographer with an iconic image, like the one above. And, sometimes, the story doesn't end when the photographer turns it over for publication. Warren Zinn, while working for The Army Times, took this photograph of soldier Joseph Dwyer carrying an injured Iraqi child, Ali Sattar, to get medical attention for his badly hurt leg. Zinn stayed in periodic touch with Dwyer, who struggled with PTSD. Recently, Zinn learned Dwyer overdosed and died, and it's left him with questions about how the photo that made Dwyer famous may have played a role in his emotional distress and eventual death.

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Tell Mr. Zinn that his photo had nothing to do with Joseph's death. Joseph loved that picture. He had it in his "I love me" binder where he kept all of his memorable clippings, photos and awards. He was a modest person and sometimes he took the photo down in our office because people's reaction to it, like he was a celebrity or there obtuse questions, would embarrass him. It didn't "force him to relive the war". He would sit, for hours sometimes, on the computer googling page after page of photos and slide shows and montages set to patriotic music. So if a single photo could be responsible, it would be impossible to narrow it down to one of the hundreds he constantly was looking at. Joe was sick. Not weak or crazy. He had PTSD- badly. Some people internalize horror differently than others. I thought I was ready to work in a level 4 trauma room until the day I saw a 9 month old die in front of me. How the doctors, nurses and other medics could continue to work there every day, I don't know. I never went back. It affected me differently and I responded differently. Joe was the best friend I ever had, a good person and a patriot. We knew he was a hero before Mr. Zinn ever took that picture, but thanks to him, now so does the nation.

Sent by Dionne Knapp | 2:19 PM | 7-17-2008

Arturo Perez-Reverte's novel "The Painter of Battles" describes a similar situation, in which a war photographer photographs a soldier and makes him "famous." This soldier seeks out the photographer years later.

Sent by NPR Listener | 2:45 PM | 7-17-2008

It takes the Marine Corps 90 days to make a Marine. (Similar for the other branches of the Armed Forces)

How long to un-make a Marine? (<15 sec?)

If the Armed Forces put as much into re-civilizing their ex-soldiders this PTSD (Shell-shock, TBI, or survivor's remorse) would be treated BEFORE it took the life of a fine young soldier.

Sent by Harold | 4:48 PM | 7-17-2008

My son suffers from PTSD after returning from assignment in the DMZ in Korea. He was recently asked to speak to senior psychiatric residents regarding his illness. When relaying to me his experience with these future psychiatrists, he shared that he felt it was important to help them appreciate what he believed caused his illness. He conveyed to me for the first time, that upon entering the military... the indoctrination to the belief that he was capable of killing another person, which ran contrary to his personal value and beliefs system was the first step. After basic, with a school boys enthusiasm and appreciation of carrying a gun and pointing it another human being with the understanding that killing someone may be needed.... he was sent to Korea. Here the second event contributed to forcing his thinking to go in a direction that was not in his nature. Walking patrol at night on the zone, with men looking across at him with their guns, brought this training into reality. He spoke frequently, throughout this retailing, of the effect it had on his core beliefs and the internal chaos that permeated his thinking regarding the need to kill or be killed. He returned from Korea without any initial apparent changes, until during a particularly hard winter and confronted by an ice storm on an isolated strip of interstate, the fear of death resurfaced. This experience began a series of panic attacks, out of body type of experiences, self medicating with alcohol and drugs and many, many trips to doctors for unrelated illnesses. There were times when this illness began to rear its ugly head, that I was convinced he was turning into a hypochondriac. My son will be talking with future psychiatrists every quarter and is actively engaged in helping the future healers understand PTSD from his personal experience. He has found tremendous healing and hope in helping others, through these medical students. I am sure that his story is not a global explanation for every PTSD sufferer, but the fear of death, faced with killing others and internal conflict about both, might be seen in those individuals who are reflective, insightful and true to their own nature. A picture might be a triggering event or may not... for my son it was an ice storm. Nonetheless, the triggering event does not appear to be the issue... it appears to be related to the internal dialogue that occurs regarding deep seated core value systems.

Sent by Yvette... a fact based observer | 3:32 PM | 7-18-2008

My heart goes out to Army medic Joseph Dwyer, his family, and his friends. Such a sad story of loss for them and this nation. I'm glad it was told, however, as it explains what true 'friendship' is all about. Ms. Dionne Knapp had a true friend in Mr. Dwyer and no unfortunate circumstance of 'death' can take those memories away. She honors him with her comments in the article and on this page. She honors him even in death! That is a profound love for a true hero!!!

Sent by RAYMOND FRAZIER | 11:02 AM | 7-21-2008

It is difficult to hold onto the fact that we are a nation at war. Unless we have a loved one in the armed services, we are not asked by our government to directly sacrifice or contribute to the war effort (other than, of course, the economic peril we are now in largely as a result of military spending. But I digress....). On-the-ground reporting is the best way for us to be reminded that individuals and families are offering everything for the war. Even people who don't support the war itself can feel great sympathy for service members and their families and feel gratitude for their sacrifice. Thank you to all the embedded reporters and photographers for helping to remind all of us that we are at war.

Sent by Sally Wendt | 4:59 PM | 7-23-2008

PTSD is a personal internal war we vets carry until the issues are settled in "our minds". They are internally painful. I think the picture was a good reminder of a man, not the cause of his death.

Sent by Charles Dodd | 12:02 AM | 7-28-2008