Sunday, July 06, 2008

Of icons and iconic symbols

icon, n.
1. An image; a representation.
2. An important and enduring symbol:
3. One who is the object of great attention and devotion; an idol:

(Warren Zinn / Army Times)
March 25, 2003, Pfc. Joseph Dwyer was photographed carrying an Iraqi boy who had
been injured during fighting between the Army's 7th Cavalry Regiment and Iraqi forces.

Today's El Paso Times carries a story on its front page of a former Ft. Bliss soldier who had joined the military two days after 9/11 to serve as a medic. It includes a picture of him carrying an injured Iraqi boy to safety after his family had been caught in a crossfire between U.S. and Iraqi forces. It's been called an "iconic photo."

Wars give us many opportunities to capture iconic photos or write inspirational stories of heroic deeds, of battles won and liberation bestowed upon the "formerly" suppressed or vanquished.

But there are far more iconic photos of the other side of war that we don't see. Like those flag draped coffins of fallen soldiers flown home under the cover of darkness and government censorship. And little do we see or hear of stories of the thousands of wounded who return, each to fight the new, more personal battles their war has bestowed upon them.

Unfortunately, there are no photos of Pfc Joseph Dwyer after his return from Iraq. But they, too, would also be icons of war. Like the night in early 2005 when he wrecked his car on the streets of El Paso trying to avoid a box in the road he thought contained an improvised explosive device. There's no photo of that.

Nor are there any iconic photos from later that year when Dwyer went on a shooting rampage in his apartment. Fortunately, no one was hurt and Dwyer surrendered after three hours of police negotiations.

And we won't see any iconic photos of Dwyer when his body was discovered late last month after "taking pills and inhaling the fumes from an aerosol can." All of these photos are the more common symbols we won't see as a legacy of war.

Dwyer suffered post traumatic stress syndrome, difficult to capture in photos and often untold in stories until they end tragically as Dwyer's did.

In the current issue of the The AARP Magazine there's an article entitled "When Wounded Vets Come Home" by Barry Yeoman. In it, there is a sidebar story of Marine Sergeant Shurvon Phillip. It contains another iconic photo of him with his mother, Gail Ulerie, and the legacy of war they both now tragically share. Reading it, you have to wonder of their futures and what might befall Sergeant Phillip should he ever lose his mother Gail.

An excerpt from AARP's "When Wounded Vets Come Home":

Fighting for His Life

Before he was injured in Al Anbar, Iraq, Marine Sergeant Shurvon Phillip told his mother, Gail Ulerie, 48, not to worry about his safety. “Everything is gonna be all right, Ma,” he told her. “I’m reading my Psalms.” Then, in May 2005, Shurvon’s Humvee hit an IED. The resulting brain injuries left him quadriplegic and unable to speak. Gail, an immigrant who came to the States from Trinidad, had to quit her two jobs so she could take care of her 27-year-old son. Initially, the work overwhelmed her. “Lord, I don’t think I can do this,” she cried out one day while bathing Shurvon. But today, having coped with his many surgeries and infections, Gail has accepted her new life caring for her son. Her time is now spent ferrying Shurvon between hospitals, rehabilitation centers, and their home in Richmond Heights, Ohio. She keeps him clean and helps exercise his arms and legs. And because he is prone to frequent vomiting, she always stays near him to make sure he doesn’t choke. The VA pays for eight hours a day of home health care. The rest of the time Gail is on her own. As many parents in Gail’s situation find, the stress can be crushing. Gail struggles to concentrate; occasionally she binge eats. She wears a hairpiece to cover the thinning hair on her scalp. Without a job, she cannot afford treatment for the cataracts doctors say could blind her. But she continues to resist moving Shurvon into a long-term care facility. “Nobody can take care of Shurvon like I can,” Gail says. —B.Y.


These are stories of the icons of war we don't see or hear enough of. They will be repeated tens of thousands of times in the years ahead. Stories of the effects that often severely impact former soldiers, their family members and our society.

After his return from Iraq, Pfc Dwyer suffered PTSD. He wanted so badly to put the war, its images, sounds, and smells behind him.

"I just want to go fishing. I don't want anything to do with violence, guns or war. I just want to meet my [new, baby] daughter and go fishing," he said upon departing El Paso for his home in North Carolina.

But like so many others, Joseph Dwyer, couldn't put the war behind him. And while not counted as a fatality of the war, it was the war that killed him. And, tragically, Joseph Dwyer has become another ultimate icon of war.


dada said...

In composing this blog, I had been originally inspired by the blip given Marine Sgt. Shurvon Phillip in the AARP Mag article, "When Wounded Vets Come Home." His and his mother's story is very moving because it is so tragic I just knew I had to blog something about it.

As if a signal "it was time" to blog it, there came the article in today's EP Times front page story of Pfc. Dwyer. I knew then I would merge these two tragedies.

But in between them was some reading I was doing last night from a couple of articles (a series) in the British paper, The Telegraph, about the decline of America, rise of China.

The first of the Telegraph articles featured military recruiters in West Virgina and Virginia where mining for fresh bodies to "restock the ranks" from economically disparaged communities is about as rich and easy as it gets for recruiters, much as the mining of coal that's being stripped from the land there is.

It told of three young high school girls, 17, who had enlisted in the army and of their naiveties about war because of the lack of accurate war icons and the indequate economic opportunities in their own country, that would inspire them to go save Iraq from a nation like the U.S., no longer able to save itself.

The second article showed photos and told stories of crumbling of Detroit, former icon of America's promise and prosperity. Iconic photos of people losing their home, of people without homes.

That further inspired this blog. These are all connected and the icons presented in them are what we as a nation are rapidly becoming, a crumbling empire in decline and decay desperate to save it as it implodes.

The first Telegraph article also quotes "British historian Paul Kennedy, in his book 'The Rise and Fall of Great Powers,' who first coined the term 'imperial overstretch', to describe the situation that besets an empire when its security needs, military obligations and globalist desires increasingly outstrip the resources available to satisfy them. As empires wane, Kennedy argued, they invariably resort to belligerence, thereby accelerating their decline by squandering their national treasuries on military spending, to the detriment of their economies and their people."

So have we sewn, shall we reap.

Border Explorer said...

If I were required for some reason to restrict my blog-reading to only one blog, I'd choose the Dally. These last several posts are all splendid, each for it's own reason. Thank you so much for your work here, Dada.

dada said...

Oh my! Thanks so much BE for the kindest of words. Coming from someone such as yourself, this is, indeed, an honor.

I'm a bit speechless. Thanks again.