Wounded officer commanded respect in Iraq
As a platoon leader in a volatile region of Iraq known as the “Triangle of Death,” Army Ranger Lieutenant John Moynihan used to say there were two ways to be a leader: pull rank and force soldiers to follow, or earn their respect. He knew — and his men knew — which kind he was.
“He lived by that respect,” said Joshua Bartlett, who served under Moynihan as a sergeant and team leader in 2007. Whether Moynihan’s men were taking heavy fire or laying concertina wire, Moynihan was right there in the middle of the action, working shoulder to shoulder. “He respected us, we respected him.”
On Saturday, Moynihan, who left the military and became a Boston police gang unit officer, lay in a medically induced coma at Boston Medical Center, a bullet lodged behind his right ear. Moynihan, who was honored for his bravery in the Watertown shootout with the Boston Marathon bombers in April 2013, had been shot point blank in the face, allegedly by a convicted felon with a history of shooting at police.
“It is clear that Officer Moynihan is a hero for our city, and the entire nation, and today we are thankful for all of those who put their lives on the line every day to protect us,” Mayor Martin J. Walsh said in a statement Saturday.
“He’s a strong kid. Given what great shape he’s in, he’s a fighter. He’s going to pull through,” Police Commissioner William B. Evans said at a press conference Saturday morning.
Moynihan and five other officers were investigating a report of gunshots fired in the area of Humboldt Avenue on Friday night when they stopped a sport utility vehicle with three men inside. When Moynihan walked to the driver’s side, Angelo West, 41, allegedly leapt from the car and began firing a .357 Magnum. Moynihan was struck before he had time to unholster his weapon, according to authorities.
‘When you find out that it was an officer that you know, and an officer that helped save your life — it is definitely more significant.’Richard “Dic” Donohue Jr.
Moynihan, 34, who joined the Police Department six years ago as an officer in Dorchester and then moved to the gang unit in 2011, has received eight commissioner’s commendations for his work, according to police Lieutenant Michael McCarthy.
During the Watertown shootout with Boston Marathon bombers Tamerlan and Dzhokhar Tsarnaev, Moynihan helped save transit police officer Richard “Dic” Donohue Jr., stanching a gunshot wound. Moynihan was honored for bravery with the department’s Medal of Honor and with the Top Cop Award at the White House last year.
“It was gut-wrenching to hear that, first of all, there was any officer injured in that way in the line of duty,” Donohue said on Saturday. “And when you find out that it was an officer that you know, and an officer that helped save your life — it is definitely more significant.”
Donohue said his family was praying for a full and speedy recovery for Moynihan.
“He’s shown his merit, whether it’s . . . saving my life, or being on patrol and working hard in the Youth Violence Strike Force,” said Donohue. “Those guys are putting their lives on the line every day to make the city a better place.”
Moynihan’s willingness to risk his life to protect others earned him a sterling reputation among his soldiers in Iraq, who nicknamed him “Banana Hands” — a fond reference to his gigantic stature — and who were willing to follow him anywhere because they knew he would fight for them every step of the way, Bartlett said.
Bartlett said the platoon was stationed not on a military base but “in sector” — setting up in homes in Iraqi villages. One day, Bartlett said, fighters hiding behind a palm grove began shooting and firing rocket-propelled grenades at soldiers who were stationed on the rooftop of their building.
Bartlett and his team raced upstairs and Moynihan charged out to the rooftop with him, grabbed a gun, and started directing soldiers where to fire.
“Most lieutenants would have probably been on a radio or in a staircase somewhere, protected,” said Bartlett. “He was right in the middle of it. We had to remind him sometimes that he was a lieutenant.”
When Bartlett left the military and was contemplating becoming a police officer, Moynihan encouraged him, and told him to simply employ the same rules they had followed in Iraq: “When you’re going through the bad stuff, keep your head up. And, I’m always here.”
Bartlett, who is now a police officer in Lubbock, Texas, is one of about 20 of Moynihan’s former soldiers — now spread across the country from Texas to Pennsylvania to Rhode Island — who are planning to fly to Boston to see him.
“Everybody’s praying for him right now,” said Bartlett. “It’s time to pray for him and let him know that his other family’s thinking about him, and we want to be there with him.”