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September 14, 2012

A hero returns home

WASHINGTON — Dubois County grew hushed and solemn Wednesday afternoon as residents filed out of their homes and places of employment to greet a long motorcade that escorted a silver hearse.

The Stars and Stripes waved around every corner and the skies stayed bright as fallen Marine Lance Cpl. Alec Terwiske, 21, of Dubois was welcomed home. The 2010 Northeast Dubois High School graduate was killed during combat operations Sept. 3 in Helmand Province, Afghanistan, while participating in Operation Enduring Freedom on his first deployment.

The processional wound its way from Huntingburg Airport through Huntingburg, St. Anthony, Schnellville, Celestine, Dubois and Haysville before ending at Becher & Kluesner North Chapel funeral home in Jasper. All roads traveled were temporarily shut down for the motorcade.

Thousands of people lined the streets along the route to pay their respects, to support the Terwiske family and to say goodbye to a county hero. More than a few shed tears at the sight.

“I’ve never seen anything like this,” said Marine Staff Sgt. Brandon Rogers, 36, a casualty assistance calls officer from the military installation at Fort Knox, Ky., who is the family’s direct liaison to the U.S. Marine Corps. “It was definitely one for the record books for me.”

Rogers has participated in four such processionals and will be in frequent contact with the Terwiske family over the next six to nine months, he said Wednesday evening.

The motorcade stretched about a half-mile long, Rogers said, as it traveled the approximately 45-mile route. Each of the 12 fire departments and every law enforcement agency in the county cooperated in the two-hour processional.

Businesses across the county changed their signs to send messages of comfort, thanks and prayers to Terwiske and his family.

Retired Maj. David L. Horne, 75, of Santa Claus was one of dozens of Marines who came to the airport to salute his fallen comrade. Although he walked with a cane and is battling pancreatic cancer — a diagnosis he received just last week — Horne stood and was completely still like the other current and retired Marines on hand as Terwiske’s silver casket appeared from the plane, disappeared into the hearse and left the airport.

“Marines stick together,” Horne said. “When you lose one, it’s a blow to the whole. And you don’t get over it in one day. It takes a long time, and it takes us all. You never let a Marine stand alone.”

The processional was joined by more than 100 motorcycles as the Patriot Guard Riders took their places to escort the motorcade through the county. The group traveled north on U.S. 231, passing Southridge Junior-Senior High School where students silently raised American flags above their heads in a solemn salute.

“I know I would not be strong enough to do something as great as he did,” senior Shannon Phillips said.

A group of veterans from Veterans of Foreign Wars Post 2366 in Huntingburg waited patiently in lawn chairs on a patch of grass near Teen Outback at U.S. 231 and State Road 64.

“It’s really hard on the veterans,” retired Air Force member Diane Blume, 60, of Kyana said of the procession, “because the ones who are sitting here are the lucky ones. They got to come back.”

As the processional continued east on State Road 64, a freight train stopped on the Norfolk Southern Railway tracks and its crew exited the train to watch.

In the minutes leading up to the caravan’s arrival in St. Anthony, the community where the Marine’s father, Alan, lives grew still. The factory operated by Jasper Group that ordinarily emits a constant drone of noise temporarily shut down and its employees filed out to the flag-lined street.

As the procession traveled down South Cross Street, Sgt. at Arms Gabe Hopf, 60, called himself and 15 other veterans of American Legion Post 493 to attention.

“Atten—tion!” he shouted. They stood straight, arms at their sides, in their uniform white-and-blue attire. “Eyes right!” They turned their heads to face the procession. “Present arms!”

They saluted, each holding out a rifle or a flag. As soon as the vehicles passed, the veterans hurried to their cars to attempt to get to Schnellville to salute Terwiske again.

In Celestine, flags waved about every 10 feet on Celestine Road South. The bells at St. Celestine Catholic Church rang out over the crowd, chiming patriotic hymns.

Resident Donnie Kempf, a classmate of Alan Terwiske’s at then-Dubois High School, parked his passenger car at 6710 E. SR 164 and covered one side of it with an American flag. A sign atop the hood read, “We are proud of you.”

Kempf is all too familiar with the feeling of waiting for a son to return safely from a foreign war. His son Joshua, 32, served two tours of duty in Iraq with the Indiana National Guard.

“When my son was in Iraq, I developed a lot of gray hair,” he said, adding that it is possible his son will serve a third tour soon, this one in Afghanistan.

The patriotic music continued in Dubois, this time from the Marine’s home church, St. Raphael Catholic Church, as the motorcade brought him back to his hometown for a final time. At Northeast Dubois High School, the silent students stood shoulder to shoulder in front of the school as the processional slowly drove through the parking lot.

Holly Gehlhausen, a 17-year-old senior of Celestine, is friends with Terwiske’s sister Codi. She fought tears as she held a banner bearing Terwiske’s name, his photo and the phrase, “A hero we will never forget.”

“I’m kind of numb to it yet,” she said. “I love the fact that our community is coming together, that they have put all the flags out everywhere. It’s really nice to see that that many people care.”

As the processional passed the Marine’s home on Main Street, where his mother, Sandy, lives, a pair of his cousins held each other as tears rolled down their cheeks and the sounds of their grief were lost in the thundering rumble of motorcycle engines.

“It’s really good knowing where he is, that he’s home,” cousin Grendlyn Cannon, 31, of Dubois said. “I know he’s in a good place, guarding the gates of heaven for God. That’s his mission now. We all wish we could have him back, but it’s comforting to know that one day, we’ll see him again.”

Dressed in fatigues, Haysville resident, Sgt. Brandon Burris, 25, a member of the Army National Guard’s Jasper-based 1st Battalion, 151st Infantry, also stood in front of the Terwiske home. He grew up across the street. He snapped to a salute and held it until the last vehicle had passed.

Rogers said farmers stopped their combines in the fields as the processional passed through the countryside, and one farmer along the route had parked a backhoe in a field with its flag-bearing bucket raised.

“I was completely taken aback by that,” he said. “That shows the amount of support and patriotism that is alive in Dubois County.”

Newton Street in Jasper was bordered by flags as the motorcade headed to the funeral home, which also was covered in red, white and blue.

Visitation was at the funeral home Thursday. Today, the funeral procession will travel South Newton Street and pass under a garrison flag suspended by firetrucks as it crosses Veterans Memorial Bridge in Jasper. It will turn onto Brucke Strasse and continue on SR 164 to St. Celestine Catholic Church for the 10:30 a.m. funeral Mass. Terwiske will be buried in the church’s cemetery after the service. The Dubois County Commissioners have requested that all flags in the county be lowered to half-staff until sunset today, while state officials request that Hoosiers statewide lower their flags to half-staff today.

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