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Rocky Point statue honors Iraq War hero felled by PTSD

A statue of the late U.S. Army medic

A statue of the late U.S. Army medic PFC Joseph Dwyer at Veterans Square in Rocky Point on Sunday, July 4, 2021. Credit: Randee Daddona

A photograph published in newspapers around the world 18 years ago turned Pfc. Joseph Dwyer of Mount Sinai into a symbol of American heroism in the early days of the Iraq War.

That snapshot of courage was preserved forever last week when officials unveiled a statue honoring Dwyer in a Rocky Point park.

Dwyer — an Army medic who died in 2008, after he had returned home — struggled with post-traumatic stress disorder after his military service. A state veterans support program is named after him.

His sister, Christine Dwyer of Shirley, said her family hopes the memorial draws attention to her brother's story and the struggles faced by other veterans.

"[Joseph Dwyer was] this peaceful person, and then he went to war and came home and then he couldn’t find any peace again," she said Monday in an interview with Newsday. "We loved him. He knew he was loved. He needed something more. He needed to talk about what he saw, what he went through."

The monument in Brookhaven Town's Veterans Memorial Square, crafted by Ronkonkoma-based Alan E. Fricke Memorials, is based on the 2003 picture by Army Times photographer Warren Zinn that captured Dwyer rescuing an injured Iraqi boy. Rocky Point VFW Post 6249 received $65,000 from the state Dormitory Authority to erect the monument in Brookhaven Town's Veterans Memorial Square.

The statue was dedicated on June 28 during a ceremony with Dwyer's family and Brookhaven and VFW officials.

Brookhaven Supervisor Edward P. Romaine in a statement called Dwyer "a dedicated soldier whose compassion for those in need is clearly depicted in this memorial."

Joseph Dwyer's return home wasn't easy, Christine Dwyer said. He lost weight, recoiled at the sound of fireworks and withdrew from crowds.

After struggling for years with PTSD, he died at age 31 from a drug overdose, leaving behind his parents, siblings, his wife and a young daughter, Christine Dwyer said.

Post 6249 commander Joe Cognitore said Dwyer was not alone in his struggles.

"I think any combat veteran has some kind of combat stress," Cognitore said. "It’s not brought up. … They don’t want to talk about it because then they get put in a category and it could ruin them for life."

The state in 2013 launched the Joseph P. Dwyer Veterans Peer Support Program, which trains veterans to counsel at-risk vets and their families. The state allocates $185,000 annually to each of the 26 counties that take part in the program, said Marcelle Leis, Suffolk County director of veterans services.

The program — which has served 4,500 Suffolk veterans and their families since 2013 — is a tribute to Dwyer's dedication, she said.

Christine Dwyer said the statue made her family proud, but it might have embarrassed her brother.

"He would want everyone who served to have his own statue," she said.

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