John Maynard didn’t look like a hero. He was a very ordinary man doing a very ordinary job. As pilot of the Ocean Queen, a small passenger boat carrying people across Lake Erie from Detroit to Buffalo, John’s only task was to steer the vessel on a safe course.
One day the crew saw smoke rising from the lower decks. «The ship’s on fire!» the mate reported to the captain. «And we have no lifeboats.»
«How far to land?» a crewman asked.
«Seven miles and forty-five minutes,» the captain replied. «We’ll be burned up in that time unless we move everyone to the front of the ship.» But there was a problem. The wheel that steered the boat—the one in John Maynard’s hands—was at the back.
After everyone had been rushed forward, the captain shouted through his voice trumpet, «John Maynard? Are you at the helm?»
«Aye, aye, sir,» came the reply from the billowing smoke.
«And what direction are we going?»
«East southeast, sir.»
«Head her southeast and run her ashore.»
John Maynard turned the wheel and headed in that direction as flames crept closer and closer. Again, and again the captain called, and each time John responded in a voice growing weaker. His hair shriveled in the terrible heat, his hands and arms blistered. Finally the bow crunched over the gravel boundary separating lake from land, and everyone scurried to safety—everyone except John Maynard. Overcome with pain and smoke, he died at his post. Think of this story the next time you sing the song «Jesus, Savior, pilot me, over life’s tempestuous sea.»