Museum to display fallen Marine’s uniformsSeptember 5, 2017
By CANDY NEAL
Lance Cpl. Alec Terwiske’s uniform will be displayed in a new section of the National Museum of the Marine Corps late next year.
But letting two of the late Marine’s uniforms go to the museum on loan was a tough decision for his mother, Sandy Terwiske, one that she agonized over for months.
“It took me a long time for me to decide to do this,” the Jasper woman said. “I asked my kids and so many of the Marines what I should do.”
With their encouragement, and a lot of consideration on her part, Sandy decided to let the museum display the uniforms. She and her daughter, Ashlee Gramelspacher, left Thursday to take the uniforms to the museum, which is located in Triangle, Virginia, just outside of Washington, D.C. They came back on Sunday, five years to the day that 21-year-old Alec, a Dubois native, was killed in Afghanistan.
“I said yes because if the uniform is in the museum, millions and millions of people are going to see it, and see his story,” Sandy said. “Otherwise, it’s going to just hang here in the closet. Someday I’m going to die, and they will either hang in another closet or someone will get rid of them. At least this way, his uniform will always be preserved and taken care of, and he will always be remembered.”
The National Museum of the Marine Corps is building a new section for Operation Enduring Freedom, which was the war on terrorism that was fought from 2001 to 2014, and Operation Iraqi Freedom, which was from 2003 to 2011. (The current conflict is called Operation Freedom’s Sentinel, and started in 2015.) The museum wants to display Alec’s uniform in the new section once it is complete. The museum hopes to open the new area in November 2018.
The museum has more than 4,000 uniform items at the museum and has about 5 percent on display at one time. Museum officials heard about Alec’s story through Fort Knox in Kentucky, and they contacted Sandy. The officials told Sandy that it is pretty much guaranteed that Alec’s uniform will always be on display because he is the only reservist that was killed in action who was also a tanker.
“They said the reservist story is important,” Sandy recalled. “And this is the only uniform they will have of a reservist who was killed in action.”
She loaned two uniforms to the museum: one of Alec’s beige camouflage uniform and the other of his blue dress uniform, complete with the white belt and gloves, white Marine hat and a set of Alec’s medals.
“They wanted a set of his cammies and dress blues,” Sandy said. “They only let the dress blues out for so long, because of the light on them. They don’t want them to fade or deteriorate. So they switch them back and forth.”
Sandy agreed to a five-year loan. “They want me to donate them,” she said. “But I’m going to do a five-year loan, and we will see how that goes.”
She owns two sets of Alec’s three uniforms — the dress blues, the beige camouflage uniform, and the green short-sleeved dress uniform. She also has two sets of Alec’s military medals and ribbons, including his Purple Heart medal.
Some of the Marines who were Alec’s comrades visited Sandy’s home during Strassenfest weekend in August and placed one set of the medals and ribbons on Alec’s uniform.
In fact, many of Alec’s comrades have stayed in touch with Sandy and her family.
“They are really good guys,” Sandy said. “It’s so funny to watch them over the years go from being withdrawn, quiet, suffering and shell-shocked from losing Alec, to where they are now. To watch them grow, it makes me really proud of them.”
People continue to send her gifts, cards and letters of encouragement.
“I get letters in the mail all the time,” Sandy said. “People send pictures, drawings, portraits. And it’s from random people in the United States. Even after moving, I still get them; and my address changed. It kinda makes you proud.”
Sandy moved from the Dubois home, where she raised her children, to Jasper almost two years ago. “I just couldn’t stay there anymore,” she said. “There were too many memories there.”
In her new home, Sandy keeps all of Alec’s belongings and memorabilia in a room she has dedicated to the fallen Marine. She has kept his trunks of military gear that were given to her. She also has Alec’s civilian clothes and games.
“I’ll never get rid of this,” she said, looking around the room at the various bed coverings, flags, carvings, plaques and other tributes she has received from people over the years.
Sandy also displays some of the gifts throughout her home, along with photos of Alec and her family, as the family has changed over the last five years.
Alec’s sister, Ashlee, still lives in Kentucky with her family. His brother, Brant, is now married with a family, and doesn’t live too far from Sandy in Jasper. Alec’s sister, Codi, is now married to John Lion, one of Alec’s comrades whom she met after Alec’s death. They live in Pennsylvania.
The Marines that served with Alec keep in touch with Sandy daily and visit her for holidays like Memorial Day.
“Five years ago when I first met them, when they first came back from Afghanistan, they were like scared, shell-shocked,” Sandy said. “They felt really, really guilty. And I was always like, ‘Don’t feel guilty. God was in control of it. There’s nothing you could do.’”
The guys are healing. They call Sandy their mom, because Alec was their brother. And when they visit, they bring their families. “I’ve watched these guys heal,” Sandy said. “They get married, and invite me to the wedding. They bring their little ones here. We go to Alec’s grave. They take care of me.”
It’s only been five years since Alec’s passing. It’s hard for Sandy to talk about him without choking up at times. But she proudly talks about her son. And she proudly reads each letter and card, and cherishes each gift she receives.
“Sometimes you open something up and you just cry,” Sandy said. “But then you’re still happy that people think enough of him to remember him, and they think of you.” Sandy leans on her family, close friends and different Marines for support.
Keeping Alec’s memory alive was her motivation to loan his uniforms to the museum.
“It’s hard for me to let them go,” she said. “You can’t believe how hard this is. But in the long run, it will be there for so many people to see.”
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