SOTU was ‘once-in-a-lifetime experience’ for Terwiske

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Sandy Terwiske and U.S. Sen. Todd Young, R-Indiana, pose with the bracelets Terwiske had made honoring her late son, Marine Lance Cpl. Alec Terwiske, a Dubois native who was killed during combat operations in Helmand Province, Afghanistan, on Sept. 3, 2012, while participating in Operation Enduring Freedom.


WASHINGTON, D.C. — The audience at President Donald Trump’s State of the Union included a Dubois County woman.

Sandy Terwiske of Jasper sat in the gallery on the front row, above the seated Democratic legislators, watching Trump speak and feeling the buzzing atmosphere of the room.

“It was amazing,” she said late Tuesday night, after the national address. “Just to be there and see everything that goes on is amazing.”

She was invited to the speech as a guest of U.S. Sen. Todd Young, R-Ind.

Terwiske’s son, Marine Lance Cpl. Alec Terwiske, a Dubois native, was killed during combat operations in Helmand Province, Afghanistan, on Sept. 3, 2012, while participating in Operation Enduring Freedom. He was 21.

Since then, Terwiske has become friends with Young, who was also a Marine. Terwiske gave Young a bracelet years ago that honors her son. Young gave that bracelet to President Trump following last year’s State of the Union, a happening that was caught on video. Young has since gotten another bracelet.

Young’s staff contacted Terwiske last week to invite her to the address. Young could not call himself because he was in the impeachment trial all week.

“They called and said that Todd is requesting that I be his guest at the State of the Union,” she said. “I was surprised. I told them to let me think about it, because I’m scared to travel by myself; I get lost easy.”

Terwiske accepted the invitation after staff members assured her that they’d pick her up at the airport and chauffeur her around to where she needed to go and take care of everything. “And that’s what they did. They were amazing,” she said. “Todd is super nice. And his workers just reflect off of him.”

Terwiske got to Washington, D.C., Tuesday afternoon. Members of Young’s staff picked her up from the airport and took her to some meetings Young set up, including one with Vice President Mike Pence.

“I met him and his wife, and got my picture taken with him,” she said. “He gave me a bag of goodies, which was nice.”

All afternoon, Terwiske was moving from place to place. “And with the traffic, it takes time to get from one place to another. This really wasn’t for sightseeing,” she said. “It was like a rush all day long, running here, running there. I wish I’d had my sneakers on instead of black dress shoes.”

She also went to Young’s office to meet with and talk to him. There was also dinner, and a media session, at which she talked to several media outlets prior to the event.

They got to the U.S. Capitol a few minutes before the address started. Security kept everyone’s electronic devices like phones and smartwatches. Young sat in a seat on the floor level with the other congressmen. Terwiske sat in the front row of the third gallery section, above where the Democratic legislators sat.

“When I came out of there and got my phone back, my phone was exploding with text messages,” she said. “There were so many.”

Terwiske thought the speech was good and well presented. “I liked how he talked about the different guests there,” she said, “the way he talked about them and praised them, and then awarded them with things.”

Terwiske mentioned, as an example, the fourth-grade Philadelphia student who was at the speech as a guest with her mother. Trump acknowledged Janiyah Davis and said she was on a waiting list for a school choice scholarship.

“Janiyah, I am pleased to inform you that your long wait is over,” the President said. “I can proudly announce tonight that an Opportunity Scholarship has become available, it is going to you and you will soon be heading to the school of your choice.”

“I thought that was awesome,” Terwiske said.

The atmosphere in the room was very telling for Terwiske.

“Watching the two [political] sides was interesting. I liked watching the different ways they responded,” she said. “Being in that room and really seeing that is different then seeing it on TV.”

Anyone watching the State of the Union could see how both sides responded differently to Trump’s remarks. The Republican members constantly stood up, clapped and cheered during the speech. The Democrats mostly stayed in their seats, though applauding and standing at a few points in the evening.

Terwiske said she met many people while she was at the speech. And she met many Marines on her trip, some of the ones who were working security duties at the speech and others at the airport when she arrived.

She approached the ones who were at the speech. “I went up and thanked them for their service,” she said. “And they said, ‘Thank you, for your son’s sacrifice, ma’am.’ I got to talking to them, and found out that some of them were in Afghanistan the same time Alec was.

“Every time they ran into me after that, they would say something to me.”

The ones at the airport approached Terwiske while she was waiting for her luggage. They recognized her because she wore the Gold Star pin on her jacket. “Three young men walked up to me and said, ‘Thank you for your sacrifice, ma’am,’” she said. “I thought that was really cool. We stood there and talked for a long time.” They told her they were Marines and were headed to Jacksonville, Florida.

Terwiske was due to get back to Indiana this afternoon, and she purposely did not have any plans for this morning, since she knew she’d be up late on Tuesday.

“I’m going to sleep until I have to get up. But I’m not sure how much I’ll be able to sleep,” she said. “It was so exciting to be there and to do that. It was such an honor to be there.”

Terwiske said she appreciated the years of friendship she now has with Young. “Todd is so down to earth,” she said, “and has such a good heart. And he never forgets.”

She also appreciated the experience of seeing the State of the Union address in person.

“This was a once-in-a-lifetime experience,” she said, “though Todd has said that he is going to get me up here again next year. I said, ‘We’ll see.’

“If that happens, I’ll definitely be wearing sneakers,” Terwiske said with a laugh.

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