Terry Prater grew up in the community of Auxier, Ky., where he attended Auxier Elementary as an honor student and was a part of the academic team. He was elected to several class superlatives in his eighth grade year two of which included Best Leader and Most Dependable among others honors.
His father credits his son with an amazing recall skill saying, “He'd read something over, he didn't have to study it, it would stay with him. That's how he got so good in the service.”
Prater's near photographic memory frequently allowed him to quote page and article of Army regulations, his father said.
Prater attended Prestonsburg High School his freshman year. He was eventually moved from Floyd County to Claiborne County, Tennessee, where he graduated from Claiborne High School in 1999.
He followed up his high school education by attending college in Middlesboro, according to his father. He interrupted his post-secondary education when he started working for his stepfather in the deep mines of Harlan County.
“They worked him like a dog,” his father said.
Prater later recalled his grandfather who also worked the mines and told his father, “Dad, I'm not going to do this all my life.”
According to Prater's father, drug use and abuse by his fellow coworkers inside the mines were a few of the reasons Prater left the mines and joined the Army in March of 2001.
“He [eventually] wanted to be a teacher,” Prater's father said.
Taking his basic training and Advanced Individual Training (AIT) in Fort Benning, Georgia, Prater was shipped to Fort Hood, Texas, upon graduation. He eventually moved off base to Clean, Texas, before settling in Copper's Cove, Texas, where he made his last home.
While in the service his father said that Prater repeatedly earned many honors including “Soldier of the Month” and “Soldier of the Quarter.” He is a current nominee for “Soldier of the Year” for 2006-2007, according to his aunt, Kay Burchett.
Prater was also a winner of the “Soldier of the Division” honors and was rewarded as a personal driver for a Colonel for six months, his father said. He was also nominated for the Audie Murphy Award, placing second in that honor.
Prater's father said his son received several “coins,” as his son called them, for performing works of merit or duty. “I think he had 32 or 33.”
One such medal Prater received was the Silver Star in 1994. According to Wikipedia.com the Silver Star is the fourth highest military decoration that can be awarded to a member of any branch of the United States Armed Forces or the third highest award given for valor in the face of the enemy. Prater earned this prestigious medal when he prevented the death of a fellow soldier while under a grenade attack.
Prater's father said, “He seen the first one come over a wall. He said, ‘I seen the first one come over, Dad.' He jumped on top of one of his soldiers, saved that soldier, and won a Silver Star for it.”
The second grenade that Prater did not see, because of his move to save his friend, severely injured him, his father said. Prater lost a part of his jaw in that blast, missing his jugular vein by 3 millimeters according to his father. Other injuries sustained in that blast were to Prater's forehead, hands, shoulders, hips, legs, and feet. For his injuries Prater was also awarded the Purple Heart.
The elder Prater gave credit to the protective vest that his son was wearing at the time and to the protective glasses he had purchased out of pocket. The doctors treating Prater said those very same goggles saved his life, Prater's father said.
The elder Prater spoke of his son's record of protecting his troops, saying that before he was killed Prater had never lost a soldier or had one to be injured.
“He loved his job,” his father said. “I mean he loved the military. He really did. He loved his soldiers. His soldiers meant everything in the world to him.”
His wounds had given him an opportunity to leave the service on disability, according to his father. Prater instead fought courageously to return to active duty, his family says. Prater's father told of the physical training test that Prater had to go through in order to return to duty.
“They put a marker out there where they had to run to. Terry had a way of psyching himself about pain and stuff. And he said he would forget about the pain and when he would see that mark he would hit the ground.”
Two months before being dispatched back to Iraq a piece of shrapnel was removed from Prater's leg. Doctors told him then he would be able to receive 70 percent disability for his wounds, according to his father.
Against his father's pleas to leave the service and to sign up on disability, Prater stayed the course for his family. “Dad, I got to feed my family,” he told his father. “I've got to make sure that Amy (Prater's wife) gets her nursing degree first.” After which Prater planned to leave the military and chase his dream. “Then I can get my disability, then go on to school and become a teacher,” he told his father.
"But he never, that I know, he never hesitated about the possibility of going back," said Prater's aunt, Kay Burchett, in an interview with WYMT. “If he had it to do all over again knowing the outcome, he still would have been there, he still would have been there.”
Prater's father described his late son as a young man who was full of joy, an avid fisherman who sought the waters of a nearby Texas lake to soothe his soul's conflict with the war.
“He loved fishing more than anybody I've ever seen in my life,” he said.
He portrayed him as a prankster ready at a moment's notice to pull a trick on someone. “He had to be the center of attention. He was jokey, and get jokes on you,” he said.
He also told of his son's love of hunting and that he often enjoyed hunting deer, turkey, and the wild boar on the Texas plains. He spoke of Prater's devotion as a father, one who first took his youngest son along on a hunting trip after he had just learned to walk.
“He started taking him when he could barely just walk覚ut there in Texas, them fields are full of cactuses,” his father said, speaking of Prater's son's want of his dad to carry him. “Son, if you want to hunt you got to walk around here. You can't walk through them. You got to walk around them,” Prater would tell his little boy.
He also described him a good soldier, whose men loved him, trusted him, and followed him with devotion.
Prater, nicknamed “T” or “Tee Tee” by his family, was one of America's finest. “Never seen a stranger, even when he was real little. He'd walk up and talk to anybody,” his father said.
Terry Prater senior last saw his son in October of 2006 when he took a flight to Texas two weeks before Prater left for Iraq. “The whole time we was down there I don't know how many times we had the boat on the lake fishing.”
His father depicted him as one who followed a strict moral code of conduct, one who could be depended upon and trusted. “He was a born-again Christian,” said Burchett.
One Bible quote states, “This is my son in whom I am well pleased.” Staff Sergeant Terry Prater was that to his father. In a time of growing violence and drug abuse Prater described his son as a good child, saying he never had any trouble from he or his brother Shane, who is also in the military service and is currently on his way for the funeral service.
Terry's aunt, Betty Hancock, was quoted by WYMT-TV saying, "He was a good husband and he was a great dad and he loved his family so much. We're proud of him because he fought for his country, fought for our freedom."
Prater's wife, Amy, spoke to Knoxville's WATE-TV saying, "He was one of the greatest soldiers in the world, one of the best fathers, best husband." She later said, "This is your worst fear come true. You keep thinking somebody is going to call and say they were wrong, but you know that they're not."
Prater's wife said he loved being on the front lines of the war on terror. “Despite the superman face he tried to put on,” she said, “deep down he was afraid. He was scared to death. He just didn't want to show it.”
Amy told another Knoxville TV station, WBIR, "He was the love of my life and he'll be missed more than anybody knows.” She spoke of his devotion to his men and his second deployment to Iraq. "He felt like he had to finish what he started the first time," said his wife. "And to be there for his guys. His guys were the most important thing about the whole deployment."
Dispatched from Fort Hood, Texas in October of 2006 Staff Sergeant Terry Prater returned to Iraq for his second tour of duty.
On Thursday, March 15, just hours after he had talked with his father, Prater led his men in groups of four along the roadway when one soldier heard an ominous clicking which released the trigger of three consecutive roadside bombs. The first bomb blew behind the four men, and the other two detonating closer each time.
The elder Prater said reports from his fellow soldiers in Iraq told the family that Prater fought valiantly for his life, that his last thoughts were of his family and his promise to return home, but in the end his last words were of love for his family.
Staff Sergeant Terry Prater is survived by his father, step-mother, his mother and step-father, his wife, a son, a daughter, and two brothers.
Prater left final wishes to be cremated and that his ashes would be spread upon Norris Lake in Tennessee from a fishing boat.
Amy Prater told WBIR, "He was a hero," she said. "He was my son's best friend. They were big fishing buddies. They'll remember him as a great, honorable person, honest, always smiling."
The family of Staff Sgt. Terry Prater will receive friends Sunday, March 25, from 3 p.m. until 7 p.m. at Claiborne Funeral Home in New Tazewell, Tenn. Memorial services will follow at 7 p.m. in the funeral home chapel. A funeral procession will depart from Claiborne Funeral Home on Monday, March 26, at 11 a.m. and travel to Norris Lake for the scattering of ashes.
This article was submitted by Randell Reno, a freelance writer in Prestonsburg, Ky.