- Associated Press - Sunday, July 16, 2017

PONTIAC, Ill. (AP) - The question that Dalene Valentine fears will never be answered is complicated.

“What do you give someone who saved your life?” she asks.

Forty-six years after being thrown from her mother’s vehicle during an accident on Old Route 66 near Pontiac, Valentine - then Dalene Gillespie - doesn’t expect to find the answer.

But she says she owes her life to two off-duty Illinois State troopers who came upon the wreck minutes after it happened.

“It was July 4, 1971 and my understanding is that Al Lindsey and John Manning were done with work and on their way home,” she said. “Al said that maybe the tire blew, or of course, back then, on Old Route 66, the speed limit was so high, if you hit some gravel, you could lose control. But accidents happen.”

Dalene was riding with her mother, Goldie Gillespie, two siblings and two other passengers. Dalene was thrown from the car, her arm severed in the process.

“I remember the car pulling to the right,” said Goldie. “But after that, I really don’t remember anything.”

Goldie suffered a broken neck, back, pelvis and arm. She was taken to a nearby hospital for treatment, but further details about the accident have been lost to floods or fire, she said.

“I think I was thrown from the window,” Dalene said. “Everyone else was fine, but my mom and I. From what we can gather, John Manning and Al Lindsey came upon the crash. I was a screaming, 8-month-old baby whose arm has been severed. John is holding me, and he and Al together were able to wrap something around me. They got my bleeding to slow down and Al went back and tried to rescue the arm which was severed above the elbow.”

The troopers also moved her mom away from danger. The pair were transferred to Loyola University where their recovery began.

On Independence Day, Dalene, her mom and other family members met Lindsey, since retired, for a reunion in Pontiac. Manning died last year, but members of his family were there.

When Lindsey first arrived at David’s Food and Spirits, he saw Illinois State Police squad cars as well as cars that some of his relatives drove, knowing something was going on.

“When I saw the Manning family here, that’s what got me,” Lindsey said. “I hadn’t seen them since John’s funeral (last year). I don’t want to take any credit here, John saved that little girl’s life, not me.”

Lindsey doesn’t consider himself a hero after helping in the accident, and said he was just doing his job, turning down any awards that he and Manning were to receive.

“There was a woman there at the scene who helped us,” Lindsey said while recalling the accident. “It’s such a hectic situation where you’re running from victim to victim. I didn’t take any notes. … It was hot then as it is today (July 4).”

The accident, said Goldie, involved more than just physical injuries.

“Mentally, it took quite a toll,” she said. “I was a single mom at the time and here was my 8-month old girl, missing part of her arm and in a body cast. I didn’t feel like I deserved her.”

She considered giving her up for adoption.

“I kept thinking about why she didn’t bleed to death, and I am just amazed and am so glad that she didn’t,” she said. “She might have, if it weren’t for these two men and others that were there that day. I don’t know what I would have done had I lost her.”

As the years passed, both mother and daughter made it their mission to find the troopers who saved them. Both live in Texas now, but Dalene spent much of her early adult years in Illinois. She and her sister found the troopers about 10 years ago.

“We went to Pontiac and looked for them, and it was kind of a fluke, but we found them,” she said. “It was insane. We had so much emotion and relief. When Al showed up, he completely lost it. He said he drives by the accident scene on a regular basis and always wondered if we made it or what happened to us.”

Even though they have visited, both Dalene and Goldie feel like they haven’t said thanks enough.

“We thought about getting them a plaque, but there isn’t a plaque big enough or a wall big enough that would have enough room for all of the words to express what we feel toward those men that were there that day and for those that are out there today doing the same thing,” Goldie said.

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Source: The (Bloomington) Pantagraph, https://bit.ly/2tT8X5w

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Information from: The Pantagraph, https://www.pantagraph.com

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