Dwyer assured his parents, Maureen and Patrick ? and his new wife, Matina, whom he'd married in August 2002 ? that he was being sent to Kuwait and would likely stay in the rear, far from the action.

But it wasn't true. Unbeknownst to his family, Dwyer had been attached to the 3rd Infantry's 7th Cavalry Regiment. He was at "the tip of the tip of the spear," in one officer's phrase.

During the push into Baghdad, Dwyer's unit came under heavy fire. An airstrike called in to suppress ambush fire rocked the convoy.

As the sun rose along the Euphrates River on March 25, 2003, Army Times photographer Warren Zinn watched as a man ran toward the soldiers carrying a white flag and his injured 4-year-old son. Zinn clicked away as Dwyer darted out to meet the man, then returned, cradling the boy in his arms.

The photo ? of a half-naked boy, a kaffiyeh scarf tied around his shrapnel-injured leg and his mouth set in a grimace of pain, and of a bespectacled Dwyer dressed in full battle gear, his M-16 rifle dangling by his side ? appeared on front pages and magazine covers around the world.

Suddenly, everyone wanted to interview the soldier in "the photo." Dwyer was given a "Hometown Hero" award by child-safety advocate John Walsh; the Army awarded him the Combat Medical Badge for service under enemy fire.

The attention embarrassed him.

"Really, I was just one of a group of guys," he told a military publication. "I wasn't standing out more than anyone else."

Returning to the U.S. in June 2003, after 91 days in Iraq, Dwyer seemed a shell to friends.

When he deployed, he was pudgy at 6-foot-1 and 220 pounds. Now he weighed around 165, and the other Musketeers immediately thought of post-traumatic stress disorder.

Dwyer attributed his skeletal appearance to long days and a diet of MREs (Meals Ready to Eat). He showed signs of his jolly old self, so his friends accepted his explanation.

But they soon noticed changes that were more than cosmetic.

At restaurants, Dwyer insisted on sitting with his back to the wall so no one could sneak up on him. He turned down invitations to the movies, saying the theaters were too crowded. He said the desert landscape around El Paso, and the dark-skinned Hispanic population, reminded him of Iraq.

Dwyer, raised Roman Catholic but never particularly religious before, now would spend lunchtime by himself, poring over his Bible.

'War hero'

When people would teasingly call him "war hero" and ask him to tell about his experiences, or about the famous photo, he would steer the conversation toward the others he'd served with. But Dwyer once confided that another image, also involving a child, disturbed him.

He was standing next to a soldier during a firefight when a boy rode up on a bicycle and stopped beside a weapon lying in the dirt. Under his breath, the soldier beside Dwyer whispered, "Don't pick it up, kid. Don't pick it up."

The boy reached for the weapon and was blasted off his bike.

In late 2004, Dwyer sent e-mails to Zinn, wondering if the photographer had "heard anything else about the kid" from the photo, and claiming he was "doing fine out here in Fort Bliss, Texas."

But Dwyer wasn't doing fine. Earlier that year, he'd been prescribed antidepressants and referred for counseling by a doctor. Still, his behavior went from merely odd to dangerous.

One day, he swerved to avoid what he thought was a roadside bomb and crashed into a convenience store sign. He began answering his apartment door with a pistol in his hand and would call friends from his car in the middle of the night, babbling and disoriented from sniffing inhalants.

Matina told friends that he was seeing imaginary Iraqis all around him. Despite all this, the Army had not taken his weapons.

In the summer of 2005, he was removed to the barracks for 72 hours after trashing the apartment looking for an enemy infiltrator. He was admitted to Bliss' William Beaumont Army Medical Center for treatment of his inhalant addiction.

But things continued to worsen. That October, the Musketeers decided it was time for an "intervention."

Minor, who had moved to New York, overdrew her bank account and flew down. She, Knapp and Salazar went to the apartment and pleaded with Dwyer to give up his guns, or at least his ammunition.