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Words from Winterbilt


Shannon Bohrer

(3/2014) The word "hero" is used a lot in our society. We use the word to describe members of the military, firefighters and police— people (usually in uniform) serving others. The word hero is also used to describe sports figures, television actors, and some well-known personalities. The word hero seems to fill a number of spaces in our society. I thought about this a lot recently when my cousin "Woody" passed away and my wife and I attended the services. Woody was young— 70 years old— which is young, especially if you’re in your late sixties. Woody served in the Air Force and he was in the uniform division of the United States Secret Service for 37 years. He did serve and, from my perspective, he was a hero.

Marshall Woodrow (Woody) Bohrer Jr. was born In Brunswick Maryland in 1943 and he passed away in his home in Brunswick on July 11, 2014, less than one mile from where he was born. Woody was always serious— he was born that way. He had a good sense of humor, he was very responsible, and he smiled a lot. He was very well-liked, not because he was in the Air Force or because he was in the Secret Service, but because he was such a nice guy. Woody was always interested in other people, he was not a complainer, nor did he brag or boost about what he did. People just felt good about being in his company. As one co-worker said at his funeral, if you were having a bad day at work and Woody was on post, if you sought him out always felt better.

A good while ago my wife and I were having a conversation about heroes. My wife said that a real hero is a man that goes to work every day to a job he does not like, and then goes home to a wife and children who don’t really care about him. Her idea of a hero, for the purpose of our discussion, was someone who is responsible. Responsibility certainly has a good fit with the word. I know that if you had asked Woody if he was a hero, he would not have thought of himself that way, but he would have thought of himself as being responsible.

Our society uses the word hero in many ways when describing a number of different people and circumstances. Hero is term we use when we describe hostages. People in the wrong place at the right time and are taken as hostages in criminal events are often referred to as heroes. The word hero is sometimes used as a description because of circumstances that people find themselves in, not because of their behaviors. After the Boston bombings, the press used the term hero to describe the victims. Of course the first responders to the bombings were also described as heroes.

Does a hero have to perform an act of courage? Does a hero have to be fearless? Does a hero have to be in uniform? We use the term often and yet we use it in such a variety of ways that sometimes the intended meaning can be lost. If we say a firefighter that saved a life is a hero, we all understand the description. But if we also describe actors like John Wayne, Clint Eastwood, and Chuck Norris as heroes, does it have the same meaning? While the actors may play the part of a hero on film, does that portrayal really describe them?

During one of the last conversations that I had with Woody, we were talking about family events and experiences. We talked about a young man (I will call him Earl) who was older than myself and lived in Brunswick, close to my Aunt Laura’s house. Woody and I both agreed that Earl was not a nice person. I was 6 or 7 years old and I remember Earl having a possum in a cage and poking it with a stick. It was uncomfortable to watch and I did nothing to stop it. I wish I did have the courage to stop it, but I did not. Woody told me that Anna Lee, a cousin or ours, used to pay boys a quarter to start fights with Earl. I never knew this and while I already liked Anna Lee, her actions elevated her status with me. I even commented to Woody that this made her a hero in my eyes. And yet, a hero should not be someone that pays someone to start a fight. However, if you knew Earl you might think differently. After all, we know that children that are mean to small animals have serious problems. I wonder if Anna Lee’s actions ever corrected Earl’s behavior.

At a later time I was thinking about Anna Lee paying boys to start fights with Earl and I wondered if it occurred early and possibly contributed to Earl’s poor behavior. If that was the case then my opinion of her being a hero could be misplaced. Context of behavior and timing can influence our perceptions. Since the timing of Anna Lee’s behavior is unknown, I just stick with my first thoughts that she was trying to correct Earl’s behavior.

I think we can have many heroes in our lives, not just the ones in uniforms, actors, or sports persons. Heroes can be teachers, parents, neighbors, friends and co-workers— people that can influence and shape our lives in very positive ways. People that are responsible and people you can count on. A hero can be personal to us and does not have to have national status. Maybe we sometimes use the word hero too much, or maybe we don’t use it enough. It would seem logical that the heroes we know should be important to us. Do we acknowledge them? How do we show our appreciation of the heroes in our lives?

Woody enjoyed life, he liked his job, he loved his family and he loved his God. From my perspective it was not his uniform or his profession that described Woody, it was his manners, his caring and concern for others and definitely his sense of responsibility.

Recommended reading: Mans Search for Meaning, by Victor Frankl.

Read other articles by Shannon Bohrer