By CAROL DAWSON
> SOUTHERN INDIANA —
To the hundreds of heroes who stepped forward on March 2 to assist our Southern Indiana neighbors from the devastation caused by the tornadoes — this column is dedicated to you.
Specifically, we recognize two men who were first on the scene to help Trish and Darrell Gilles, along with their three young children (Caleb, Collin, and Mia), escape further injury and possibly death after a tornado demolished their home.
Trish and Darrell invited me into their new home last week to recognize two of their heroes, Extra Milers Dale Doty and his stepgrandson, Cody Brody. They spoke about March 2 — a day they will never forget.
The Gilles family has befriended 18-year-old Cody and consider him family. Trish refers to the Henryville High School senior as her fourth child. Cody, clearly at ease with the Gilles family, occasionally joins them for dinner and teases his adopted siblings as many big brothers do.
While the family has become well acquainted with Cody, they have not had the opportunity to talk extensively with Dale and to hear his story of the day the tornado ripped through their home and their lives.
Trish sat directly across the table from Dale as he responded to interview questions. She was transfixed by his words and clearly in awe of the heroic efforts he took to save her life. Dale told of the day he and his family watched as the tornado took a path away from his Henryville home.
Once Dale knew his neighborhood had escaped the tornado, he and Cody moved quickly to offer help to those in need.
“As soon as the tornado disappeared into the clouds, Cody and I instinctively jumped in the truck to see if anybody needed help,” Dale stated.
Dale thought about driving toward the center of Henryville; however, he felt prompted to turn down another road — the country road leading to the Gilles family home. Dale and Cody didn’t know the Gilles family before that day. Dale explained, “While I wasn’t even sure the tornado had hit this part of town, it was as if I had no other choice but to turn down that road. I strongly believe God was steering us to help this family.”
They made it to a gravel road when Cody saw a man, covered in blood, stumbling up a hill. Behind him was a home torn apart by the tornado. They ran toward Darrell Gilles.
With multiple serious injuries, Darrell was willing himself up the hill toward the closest neighbor to find help for his family. Upon seeing Cody and Dale, Darrell immediately turned their attention from himself toward his wife and children.
Upon reaching the bottom of the hill they found three young children standing barefoot, looking down at their mother, who was partially covered by the wreckage of their home. Seriously injured, Trish Gilles couldn’t move — the pain was too intense — just breathing was a challenge. Dale recalls, “The three kids did not appear to be seriously injured but I expected them to be crying and was surprised at how calm they seemed.”
Dale’s first thought was for the safety of the Gilles children because it appeared another tornado may be headed their way. Cody expressed his concern that the children were standing among the glass and shards of wood without shoes as Dale pointed out the hissing wires scattered about the disaster site.
Darrell was making his way back to his family when Cody began carrying the children, one by one, to the safety of their father. Dale told Darrell to take care of the children and promised, “I will stay with your wife.”
As Darrell and the children begin walking toward safety, huge softball-sized hail plummeted toward them along with severe wind and rain. They took cover under small pieces of drywall as Cody went to help others. He didn’t get far before sustaining serious injuries himself from the hail. Cody was later treated for a concussion, a gash on his head and a broken elbow.
In the meantime, Dale was holding true to his promise and focusing his attention on Trish. She had serious injuries that included a crushed pelvis, broken ribs and punctured lung. In extreme pain and having difficulty breathing, she recalls, “I kept crying out in pain and asking Dale to get me out of there, all the while I heard him promising repeatedly that he would not leave me. He was my only hope of survival.”
Dale begins to choke up as he tries to explain how difficult the situation had become.
“Every time I tried to move Trish, she would scream in agony. She was positioned on pieces of broken wood and jagged pieces of debris from the house so I grabbed pieces of clothing and carefully placed them under her.”
Being very aware of the crackling of live wires, Dale took a piece of wood and pushed several wires away from Trish’s body.
At this point in the interview, Dale became overwhelmed with emotion, dropped his head, and placed his hands over his face. Trish did not take her eyes off Dale, as tears streamed down her face. Clearly the details of that disastrous day evoke strong emotions for both the rescued and the rescuers. Through the tears, Trish softly reveals, “Dale, you were a stranger, but you never left my side … and I knew throughout it all that you would not leave me.”
Nine-year-old Mia breaks down in tears.
Dale continued, “While trying to comfort Trish, I noticed black clouds moving into the area and feared another storm. I found a small piece of plywood, knelt down beside Trish and held it over her body and my head. As the winds tried to tear the wood from my hands, huge chunks of hail began to fall. Frightened, I prayed to God to keep us safe.”
Many who survived the tornadoes talk about the stress that accompanies their memories and Dale is no different.
“When remembering those moments, when all we had was that small piece of plywood to protect both of us, I recall the terror and then I realize I’m crying.”
Despite the darkness Dale feels when remembering the disaster, there was a somewhat humorous moment. Feeling vulnerable, Trish began painfully tugging at her wet clothing to ensure she was fully covered. Upon realizing her discomfort, Dale tactfully explained he is a grandfather and much too old for her to become worried about modesty. They both laughed at the memory.
Two men soon joined in the rescue effort. With their assistance, Dale once again attempted to move Trish to safety; however, the pain was too intense and he feared further injury. Two EMTs arrived and using a door from the debris as a gurney, they were able to carry Trish to the truck. Despite his injuries, Cody had pulled the truck as close as possible and helped in the effort to get Trish to an ambulance.
After being driven to a main intersection in Henryville, Trish was finally transferred to an ambulance. It is only at that time that Dale and Cody saw the full impact of the tornado. Dale recalls, “We saw the devastation of Henryville — we saw people standing in shock, with their hands held out in wonder and confusion. There were rows of ambulances waiting for those injured … and those who had not survived.”
Cody remembers that day as a nightmare. He vehemently denies the title of hero, stating, “Dale and I really never took time to think about what could happen; we simply reacted as many others did.”
Dale believes firmly that their efforts were, “God’s will.” Throughout the day, he was reminded of a favorite Bible verse, Revelation 21:4, “And God shall wipe away all tears from their eyes; and there shall be no more death, neither sorrow, nor crying, neither shall there be any more pain: for the former things are passed away.”
The words continue to provide comfort when Dale struggles with memories of the day the tornado ripped through Henryville and into his life.
Cody and Dale, thank you for being heroes to the Gilles family and for putting their lives above your own. Southern Indiana is proud to call you Extra Milers.
• Extra Miler Tip of the Month: Ironically both Dale and Cody offered a similar tip when asked how they would encourage others to step forward in times of crisis. Cody said, “Think about others more than yourself.” Dale simply said, “Remember that life is not all about you.”
— Carol A. Dawson is a resident of Jeffersonville and owner of EEO GUIDANCE, Inc. If you have seen or been a part of an act of kindness or know an EXTRA MILER, please contact her. To submit an Extra Miler, a story, or act of kindness, contact Carol via email: Cdawson@eeoguidance.com, mail: THE EXTRA MILERS, The News-Tribune, 221 Spring Street Jeffersonville, IN 47130-3340.