Every Man Needs a Hero—Every Man Needs to Be a Hero

“Even when I am old and gray, do not forsake me, my God, till I declare your power to the next generation, your mighty acts to all who are to come.” Psalm 71:18

 Ernie Banks

“The world’s battlefields have been in the heart chiefly; more heroism has been displayed in the household and the closet, than on the most memorable battlefields in history.” 

Henry Ward Beecher (1813-1887) American politician.


We need heroes.

Having a hero expands our world. It connects the dream God gave us using a real person that inspires each of us to believe that we have both purpose and potential. That purpose and potential becomes strength and determination when attempting difficult challenges, taking high risks, and achieving monumental results.

Laura Boswell, Editor of Healthy Kids Magazine, wrote, “From Amelia Earhart to modern-day heroes, we all need role models to look up to–people who inspire us to new heights. For children, too, heroes are important in that they help kids overcome fears, set personal goals and accept challenges.”

“It’s important that kids have these kinds of heroes as they demonstrate a way of making the impossible attainable; it gives children something to stretch for,” said Rebecca Elder, Ph.D., St. Louis Children’s Hospital.

Ernie Banks was a sports hero that made a difference in Darrel’s life.

I am old enough now, to look back over my life and identify a few men who measured up to the level of hero in my life. It was not in sports and, at the time, I did not recognize their hero qualities. Yet, I recognized their attributes as mentors or encouragers in the struggles of ministry and everyday life.

My Dad rises to the top of a small list of my heroes. Grief jolted me in my approach to the first anniversary of his death. A big part of grief work is learning to live with a piece of you missing. I did not realize how big of a piece of my life he was. It is too often true that you don’t know what you have until you don’t have it anymore.

We had a genuine, respectful and strong relationship even though it was long distance. The only thing that separated us was miles. As an adult I never lived closer than a couple hundred miles from where I grew up. College took me seven states away from home and my ministry opportunities never brought me much closer. Opportunities scattered around the country had the most appeal to me.

Dad did not like to travel. Most of the times I saw him, it was on our annual vacation back home. Maybe he blamed me for moving away but I only thought it made sense to expand my world and pursue opportunities of ministry in exciting places. Occasionally in the early years, he and Mom would visit us but he was not comfortable being away from home and he always had a reason to hurry back. My kids knew their grandfather and what he stood for but they did not get to have many conversations or enjoy hanging out with him.

The bigness of his life existed in his unwavering commitments to God and His church, to our great country and to his family. He lived beneath his means, spent less than he earned, saved a little, gave at least his 10% tithe and, beyond that, was generous to those in need.

He epitomized the greatest generation–what he did in WW II was heroic. And he has the medals to prove it. He never talked about them or showed them to me but after he died, I was reading his discharge papers and learned that he earned battle medals with clusters for service “above and beyond the normal call of duty.”

Normal duty was as a machine gunner on a B-17 named “Lassie Come Home”. On June 7th, 1943, Dad was in the belly of the plane for his 28th bombing mission. This time, he and the crew of 10 were loaded up for a bombing raid over Germany, headed for Berlin.

Grandma’s battle was fought through prayer. She devoted every Wednesday to prayer. For hours at a time, she would remember, by name, missionaries, pastors, churches, the sick, neighbors and families in need asking God to bless, protect and care for them and be glorified by their lives. Dad credits his survival to his mother’s prayers.

Resistance was tough on the flight that Wednesday in June 1944. There was flak and fighter fire. Debriefing reports revealed that his plane was hit by fire from a diving fighter. When Dad saw the wing on fire he knew they were going down. He immediately unmanned his 50 Caliber machine gun, ripped off his oxygen mask, and turned for the door at the back of the fuselage where he was going to bail out at 25,000 feet. It would be his first jump. Before he got to the door, the many sounds of war–racing engines, guns firing, men screaming and the burning plane with the g-forces throwing him beyond his control–crescendoed into a fiery explosion and the debris of “Lassie Come Home” fell to earth. The sound of the wind from a free fall was all he could hear but he did not remember how he got out of the plane nor did he remember pulling the rip cord to deploy his parachute. He knew that he must have because he remembered reaching the ground, the throbs of a severely sprained ankle greeting him, along with a handful of German farmers with pitchforks, shovels, and a shotgun. There was no time to find his missing chute. He was carted off, put in a cell with stone walls in the back corner of the local jail until German soldiers came and took him. He was made an official Prisoner of War for the next 11 months, housed in one of Germany’s five major Stalags for U.S. and Allied Forces prisoners. Five of his crew never saw another day.

Maybe that had something to do with why he did not like to travel. When he got stateside, he built the life he fought for and his buddies died for. He did not drink or go to parties in college–college was for education. His social life was simple. He would go hunting and fishing with Jack Connelly, Uncle Stuart and his buddies. He met his Geri Young at church. They were married, lived in a little upstairs apartment of his parents’ house until he built his own on an adjoining lot. During the booming 50’s, that is what a man did, and my Dad did it with faith and devotion. He kept his job at Lycoming for more than forty years. It is a plant where small airplane engines are still manufactured.

He avoided the vices of smoking and drinking–he saw enough of that during the war and did not believe it pleased God.

For many years, he taught Sunday School classes to young boys, sent many of them to Susque Boys Camp and, beyond his expectations, became a hero of at least one of those boys. I know, because in an amazing twist of fate, I met him 45 years and 1,600 miles away from that class. When I met Bob Newton in Colorado at my church, he asked me if I was from Williamsport, Pennsylvania and if Bob Hettinger was my dad. After my affirmative answer he said, “He was my Sunday School teacher when I was a boy and, when I went to college and they asked, ‘What man in your life do you most want to emulate,’ I said, your Dad.”

Dad cared for his parents and when my widowed Grandfather could not live alone anymore, he and Mom took him in. One momentous day, my 97-year-old grandfather told my Dad something that was long overdue. He called him to his side in the bedroom where he was living. My dad sat beside his wheelchair. Grandpap placed his still strong and impressive hand on my Dad’s leg and said, “You are a good son. I love you and I bless you.”

My Dad, in his late 70’s, did not seem to need anything but he was waiting a lifetime to hear those words. In the late years of his life, they meant everything to him and he did not want my brother and me to have to wait as long. While he was not frequent in telling us that he loved us, he did. It was not a routine expression at the end of a phone call or the appropriate thing to say when we left Pennsylvania at the end of one of our rare visits. He really meant it when he said it but he wanted us to have even more.

The feeling of completion and strength that he received when my Grandfather blessed him was a Biblical reality that he would give to my brother and me. I admit it felt awkward to sit with him standing beside me, his hand on my head as he prayed God’s blessing over and into my life–maybe it was because my wife and kids were watching. The unfamiliarity of it was uncomfortable but beneath that self-consciousness was an undeniable feeling that this was right. It was strengthening my soul and would transcend all of my circumstances.

Dad never departed from those values and commitments through his life and he finished the way he lived. He followed the example of his mother and intensely prayed for my brother and me, our wives and our kids, until the day he died. In the wee hours of the morning, the week before he died of acute leukemia, his pain was out of control. I was afraid he was going to die with just the two of us there as he cried out in pain. There was the hope that he was going to Heaven but he wanted, one more time, to pray for each of his family by name and ask God to care for and bless his wife, his sons, their wives and each of his grandchildren. The pain meds began to do their work and he was able to go to sleep, but his hero status was forever engrained in my mind.

Ernie Banks had talents and opportunities that gave him a platform to be a hero to many adoring fans. He worked hard to be the best shortstop he could be and he played the game with intensity and excellence. He also used those opportunities to make a difference in the life of someone as impressionable as Darrel.

Bob Hettinger also had a platform that came from being a dad, a WW II veteran, a hard-working man who built a house and made it a home for his family. He used his platform to make a difference in the lives of his sons, and, at least for me, in ways that were not always understood or esteemed with the value he and his actions deserved.

As different as Ernie and Dad were in their platforms, talents, and lifestyles, they were alike in embodying the traits of true heroes.

They both lived life as though it mattered.

I wonder what Ernie thought after his speaking engagement with the Hessville Little League. Did he really expect to see the 12-year-old Darrel in the Big Leagues? If he is like most public speakers, on his ride home, he was thinking about what he should have said and did not, what he did not say and should have, and already planning to do better on his next speech. He was probably not so full of his own importance that he thought, “I said what I should have, the way I wanted to, and the kids listened attentively and received just what they needed so I am sure their lives will be changed because of their encounter with me tonight.”

When I called my Dad and told him I met one of his students from a class he taught many years earlier, he quickly remembered the boy in his class, Bob Newton. When I told him how much Bob admired him, my Dad was shocked to think that his meager efforts at his first teaching opportunity to that small class on Sunday afternoons, made a life-long impact on one of his students. I also doubt he realized how much I admired him and the way he lived his life, as well as the magnitude of his influence on me.

For both Ernie and Dad the results were immeasurable. There was a conviction that you do what is right because it matters, even if nobody is looking and you cannot see an immediate result. There is meaning to our lives that is bigger than we are. We are given a life to live in a way that we can make a difference. God will work in and through our lives to accomplish something too big to measure. Whatever they did, they did it as though it mattered. And it did.

They took time to give attention to others.

Big Leaguers do not need to speak to Little Leaguers—not at banquets nor for autographs before or after games.

Dads have their own interests and problems. How can a young man find time to teach a bunch of boys who really do not want to be in a class on a Sunday afternoon? Why would a dad, who was getting old, spend the time to think about the need to bless his sons and how he was going to do it?

Taking time for others costs something and heroes are willing to pay that cost. They know their life is expanded in what they give to others. Their satisfaction comes in giving themselves away.

They gave hope and vision to someone’s future.

An experience in the 12-year-old Darrel’s distant future was established when Ernie blessed Darrel with the words, “I will see you in the Big Leagues.” For the next nine years, there was a vision in Darrel’s heart and mind of an encounter on a Big League field in a Big League game.

Bob Newton taught kids in my church 45 years after being in my Dad’s class. It was not his first time to lead a children’s ministry. He saw in Dad something that he liked and he saw it in a way that made him think, “I want to do that. I can do that.” And throughout his adult life, he did just that.

Ministry has been very different than I dreamed it would be when I was in Bible College learning Theology and taking Preaching Classes. My naiveté had visions of grandeur with little cost, no conflict or suffering.

But, in spite of my immersion into the harsh realities of leading people, even after many years with many struggles and disappointments, my energy and hope for life and ministry continues to grow. I realize that God gave me the hope of a future, the trust for results from the example and blessing of my Dad. It is not the results that I see that count, but the confidence in knowing that my life matters to God and is producing fruit even when I do not see it. I know my life matters because it did to my Dad, who assured me that my life and my work matter to God, as well. I can expect greater things in the future because he put his hand on my head and spoke blessing into my life and into my future.

In the book, Letters From Dad, Greg Vaughn, describes three types of blessings.

“First are General Blessings.”

“Second are Blessings from God to Christians.”

“Third are the Blessings we can give to each other.” (From the book, Letters From Dad, by Greg Vaughn, Grace Products Corporation)

Blessings are spoken into our lives like Ernie did to Darrel or in a formal ceremony, like my Dad prayed over me. Every man longs for a Blessing. We have the power to speak blessing into another’s life.

We value words of appreciation and positive affirmation. They are not mentioned often enough in the course of everyday life and we long to hear them. Just a word can fuel a man’s motivation and energy. It can be the blessing that a young boy or another man is looking for.

Words can give a future to hope in, to strive toward and to work for.

The person who means the most to us is the one who has listened to our dreams and observed our talents and determination; one who has given us a vision for our future and, actually, gave us a future to live for. Perspiration, sacrifice, and struggles will not stop us in our pursuit of it because we are filled with strength of purpose and character. Whatever the endeavor, there is the assurance we have made it to the Big Leagues.

They recognized someone’s accomplishment and conferred honor on the one who achieved it.

When Ernie greeted Darrel at first base with the words, “I knew you’d make it, welcome to the Big Leagues” and, with the physical touch of his arm around the shoulder and the hug in front of the 36,000 fans and fellow Big Leaguers, his recognition honored Darrel and conferred upon him the reality that Darrel was a Big Leaguer. The road ahead would not be easy. That reality would be tested with a year back in the Minors, time on the bench, boos from the fans, difficulty with the bat and drama in his personal life with moves, finances, and the death of his mother.

Experiences of affirmation, similar to the one Ernie gave to Darrel, do not happen every day–they are rare. But if we experience just a couple of them in our lives, they become defining moments that last throughout a career or maybe a lifetime. One of my Dad’s proudest moments was the day of my ordination. He travelled to see that ceremony. He even stayed for the reception afterwards and celebrated at our house in Ohio. A few times over the years, especially after a difficult battle or in the middle of a painful struggle, he would remind me that I was in something much bigger than I could see. This was God’s work–it was the Big Leagues. It was for Him, it would be by Him, and the results were up to Him.

A lot of men have never heard anyone say, in any way, shape, or form, I am proud of you; you have made it; you are a man; your life matters; you are in the Big Leagues.

Without even realizing it, men’s spirits are thirsty for this blessing and confirmation.

If a man has not received this type of confirmation from a significant man in his life–a hero–then he needs to pray for and look for a man who will pronounce this significance and blessing into his life.

This reality also empowers each man to become a hero.

John Trent instructs fathers on how to be heroes by pronouncing a blessing to their children in the classic book, The Blessing. Through meaningful touch, spoken words, expression of high value, a vision of a special future, and an active commitment, all of the ingredients of an effective game plan are in the playbook. (From the book, The Blessing by John Trent, Pocket Books)

If baseball teams have scouts for skills and talents who recruit, sign, coach and train, then certainly pastors, churches and men of God can also produce the environment where every man can hear the words, “I will see you in the Big Leagues” and then some day celebrate the reality, “I knew you’d make it. Welcome to the Big Leagues.”


 What has been hit to you?

Who is your hero?

Has any significant man blessed your life? Told you that you matter? Affirmed your skills and talents? Cared about your dreams? Given you hope for a bright future?

When you are up to bat, what are you going to do?

Pray for God to bring admirable men into your life?

Who, in your life, needs a hero?

What can you do to bless him?