Another reason Johnny thinks Dally is a hero is because Dally seems to have risen above the sorrows life has accorded him. Much like Johnny, Dally has had a difficult and unhappy upbringing.
Despite this, Dally has managed to remain tough and courageous. Additionally, he unselfishly looks out for Johnny and Pony. This is evident when Dally helps Ponyboy and Johnny make their getaway after Johnny kills Bob. He gives both boys a gun and fifty dollars and tells them to take the freight train to Windrixville. Then, Dally tells Ponyboy and Johnny to hide out at an abandoned church atop Jay Mountain. He instructs them to buy a week's worth of groceries and to wait for him there. Dally tells them that he will come for them when the coast is clear.
Later, Dally visits Ponyboy and Johnny at their hideout. He brings a letter from Sodapop for Ponyboy and then takes the boys to a Dairy Queen. There, he treats them to a meal of banana splits and barbecue sandwiches. Dally's generosity and gruff kindness inspire admiration in Johnny.
When Ponyboy and Johnny struggle during the church fire, it's Dally who helps them again. As can be seen, Dally makes it a point to look out for Johnny and Ponyboy despite his own unhappiness. To Johnny, Dally is a hero because he has managed to transcend his terrible upbringing to develop a strong, courageous, and tough exterior.