Tony Walton

Rookie (4 March 1950 / London, England)

Specialist Joseph Dwyer - Poem by Tony Walton

He came home a hero, an Iraqi war vet - and yet
he never came back home at all, as he was, because
the things that he saw over there in the war shook to the core
his every belief in what it was for; and his grief
and terror an existential error he could never forget.

The photograph taken of him on the run was the one
that made him famous. He was proud of that photo, but never
wanted to be a prototype poster-boy employed to destroy
the truth of that war and what it was for; and what he did
in saving that kid, he said any one of them would have done.

Joe Dwyer under fire got his life badly twisted. He'd enlisted
right after the Twin Towers went down, in his own home-town;
and he'd married Matina directly before he was sent off to war:
a twenty-six year old medic in glasses; he was there to save asses.
In the thick of the action right from the start, he played his part.

And being a hero didn't save him from hitting ground zero
once he returned: his whole life burned up; and all he had earned
for the Land of the Free gave him PTSD
and a drug-abuse problem, and marital crack-up,
no chance of a job and no aftercare back-up.

And nothing he tried seemed to work: he just went berserk.
He was scared for his life; took to clutching a knife
as he hid in the wardrobe night after night; firing in fright
at insurgents he thought had broke into his house, scared like a mouse,
and crashing his car to avoid roadside bombs, that destroyed

him anyway without even exploding. His whole world was imploding.
He sat in restaurants with his back to the wall, and stacked all
the furniture at home against the wall; and crowds appalled him;
and aerosols helped him snatch some sleep - but he couldn't keep
it together at all: he was falling apart; he was sick in his heart.

He was close to the edge and toppling over. And the overdose
of prescription pills that simply failed to cure his ills,
and the chemical fumes from the spray-can gun, are what done
for Joseph Dwyer in the end: an end that couldn't have been
more dire. And he was a tryer, alright; but he just couldn't fight
that never-ending fight against all the things he'd seen.

Poet's Notes about The Poem

Joseph Dwyer died on 28th June 2008. He was 31 years old. The photograph that made him famous - taken in Mishkab, south of Baghdad, by Warren Zinn on 25th March 2003, less than a week into the invasion of Iraq - can be seen on http: //

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Poem Submitted: Thursday, August 23, 2012

Poem Edited: Thursday, August 23, 2012

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