Not Just a Hero to His Country

The priest who founded The Christophers back in 1945, Maryknoll Father James Keller, set down no rules for membership in the organization. All you had to do to join was to be convinced that you could change the world. Yep, that’s it: change the world. That sounds like a tall order, and sometimes it is. You can change the world in big ways–if, for example, you carve out a career in an influential field and help to mold the opinion of others. Or you can do it in small ways, some of them so little that you hardly notice them at all–like being nice to people.

Repeated often enough, that too can change the world. That’s just what Jeremy Henwood did, and in carrying out a simple act of kindness he managed to put an exclamation point on a lifetime of service.

I read about Henwood in a story in the Los Angeles Times. Born in Canada 36 years ago, he lived in Texas and ultimately found his way to Southern California. He had quite a military record as well, joining the Marines and twice drawing combat assignments in Iraq. Returning to the U.S., he became a police officer in San Diego and also remained active in the Marine Corps Reserve, attaining the rank of captain. Then came one more combat assignment, this time to Afghanistan, and when he returned he rejoined the San Diego Police Department.

A few weeks ago–on a Saturday afternoon, Aug. 6, to be exact–Jeremy Henwood was shot to death, literally for no reason at all. He was sitting in his patrol car, parked in San Diego’s City Heights neighborhood, when he was gunned down by a 23-year-old assailant. The killer was himself fatally wounded not long afterwards when he refused to surrender to other officers, reaching for a shotgun as he did so. The weapon, it turns out, was the same one used to kill Officer Henwood.

So there it was: a life devoted to serving others, ended so senselessly. “He went boldly into harm’s way,” his commander said later, “knowing full well that he might not come back someday.”

And oh, yes–that act of kindness that would define Henwood’s life? That happened the same afternoon, shortly before he died, in a McDonald’s not far from the shooting scene. A surveillance camera caught Henwood talking to a young boy who had asked him for some money. When the officer wondered what the money was for, the boy told him he wanted something to eat.

“I’ll do better than that,” Henwood replied. “I’ll buy it for you myself.”

That’s just what he did, and the camera got it all–one of the last things Jeremy Henwood would do on earth–down on tape. It’s quite a way to be remembered.

The governor of California, Jerry Brown, other officials and about 3,000 of Henwood’s fellow police officers heard about the incident a few days later, at the funeral service.

They also heard Henwood’s sister, Emily, speaking between sobs. “I think it goes without saying that Jeremy was a great man,” she said, “and a hero to his country.”

Those are some of the things that go with what Jeremy Henwood did. And that, simply, was to change the world.

Subscribe to CE
(It's free)

Go to Catholic Exchange homepage