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Veteran Terry Fillyaw
An American Spirit

Veteran Terry Fillyaw now teaches high school

Terry Fillyaw was a diver for the U.S. Navvy

Left: Terry Fillyaw, a U.S. Navy veteran, now teaches world history and psychology at Suwannee High School.-Photo: Jeffry Boatright

Above: Terry Fillyaw was a diver for the U.S. Navy from 1984 until 1992. -Photo: Submitted

By Jeffry Boatright

Live Oak, Fla., – Veterans Day is a time to pause and focus on how blessed we are to live in this free country, Terry Fillyaw explained. “The reason every American is able to live their lives freely is because of the veterans who chose, and choose, to serve, guaranteeing that freedom,” he added.

As a veteran of the United States Navy, Fillyaw fully understands what it means to serve our country, and it is with fond memories that he recalls his experiences while serving active and reserved duty. Fillyaw proudly served in the Navy from 1984 until 1992 as a diver with Explosive Ordnance Disposal Mobile Unit 6, in Charleston, SC.

To say that Terry Fillyaw has lived an ordinary life would be completely inaccurate. Instead, the Suwannee County native has enjoyed an extraordinary life, and it only takes a moment to realize that he embraces life, accepts its challenges and seeks every opportunity to positively affect those around him. Perhaps his own curiosity and adventurous spirit have contributed to such fascinating adventures that began along the historic Suwannee River.

It is doubtless that Fillyaw’s life-long affection for the river and water activities led to his decision to enlist in the Navy. It was during that time, however, that he seized the opportunity to explore different bodies of water around the world. “Although I was stationed only five hours from my home in Live Oak, I spent time deployed in Europe, Central America and the Middle East with my team,” Fillyaw explained.

According to the Navy veteran, his responsibilities carried him to Spain, the Persian Gulf, and Panama. “I enjoyed being in Panama, working joint service missions with the Panamanian dive teams,” Fillyaw added. “We blew up a lot of stuff down there and ate a lot of fish and good food on their islands.”

Fillyaw acknowledges that his service in the U.S. Navy provided many wonderful memories and wonderful experiences. “There have been many memories from my military experience that I will never forget, from the intense training in dive school to rendering safe unexploded mines in the Persian Gulf.” Fillyaw emphasized the significance of the brotherhood he found in the Navy, along with life-long friends that were established during that time.

“I do remember one incident, however, when diving on a training exercise in the Atlantic,” Fillyaw articulated.

“Visibility was horrible and I was using a hand-held sonar to locate a huge mine that was in about 70 feet of water. On my way down to the mine, I noticed a huge dark, shadowy object about 50 feet down. It moved out of my way before I could descend to it. I thought it was a huge manta ray swimming by, and continued toward the mine and began the recovery process. When I started my ascent I was pulled backwards! What I had thought to be a manta ray was actually a parachute that was attached to the mine. The ocean current pushed the parachute back over the top of me and I became entangled in the parachute cord. It took what seemed an eternity for me to cut myself out of all that cord and get back to the surface safely. That moment aged me a few years,” he added with laughter.

Certainly, there were elements of danger involved in Fillyaw’s assignments, but he loved the water and everyone on his team knew that if it involved getting in the water, Fillyaw wanted to be first. “Being part of a brotherhood in the Navy diver community was enjoyable, Fillyaw recalled. “And what guy doesn’t enjoy big, loud explosions and blowing stuff up?” he asked rhetorically.

It is with extreme optimism that Fillyaw sees today’s Navy. “Today’s high-tech and powerful U.S. Navy recruits are at a different level than the days when I was enlisted,” he explained. “We have some very intelligent men and women who serve today. I see the Navy going after the valedictorians and honor students in our high schools. Our Navy today has the cream of the crop, and this helps me sleep good at night.”

Although his days of active duty are long-gone, Fillyaw surely enjoys sharing his experiences with the students that he teaches at Suwannee High School in Live Oak. “I always encourage students to go out and see as much of our world as they can see,” he stated. “I’m confident that if they are able to do this, they will have a greater appreciation for our community and our country.” Fillyaw also encourages them to always strive to feed the good that exists in all of us.

Fillyaw acknowledges that he now has his dream teaching job at SHS, where he teaches world history and psychology. “It is great to know that I’ve come full-circle, and will probably end my career where it all started, right here at home in Live Oak.

The Navy veteran admits that his experiences from growing up in Suwannee County, military service, time at college and 25 years of teaching and coaching have given him plenty of life experiences to help make his classroom a richer educational experience for his students. “My students know that I care about them, and I get the feeling they feel the same about me. That makes for a great environment to come to every day.”

Although Fillyaw’s educational career as a student began in Suwannee County, he attended high school in Lafayette County. “After beginning my freshman year at SHS, some of us in the Luraville area decided we were tired of the long school bus rides every day. We were the first ones on and the last ones to get off, so we went to Lafayette High School. It was while attending LHS that Terry Fillyaw developed another passion, which is football. He stated that during those years at LHS, he was a member of Lafayette High’s only state championship football team, which was in 1981.

After leaving active duty in the Navy, Fillyaw enrolled as a student at Florida State University. “My goal was to be the first in my family to get a college education and degree,” he recalled.

Of course, Fillyaw’s spirt of adventure would not allow him to just simply attend classes. “I was bored just being a student, so I walked onto the football team and was so blessed to have made the cut,” he acknowledged. “It was an absolute honor to be on a college football team coached by one of the greatest of all-time, Bobby Bowden.”

A lot of water has drifted down the Suwannee River since Fillyaw was a mere child enjoying the tranquility of his beloved Luraville community, but his interests remain the same. “I still love the water, he confirmed. “I bought property on the river near some springs and I enjoy spending most of my time there.” Fillyaw loves fresh and saltwater fishing, and going spearfishing in the gulf.

Fillyaw also finds the appeal in traveling. “I love to travel across our country, seeing new places and meeting and talking with fellow Americans,” he explained.

Of course, the game of football remains dear to his heart. “This time of year, I’m a football fanatic,” he conceded. “You will always find me at a high school football game on Friday nights, and watching college football on Saturdays.

Indeed, Terry Fillyaw has enjoyed many accomplishments and there are undoubtedly more to come. He admits, however, that his children are by far the greatest of all accomplishments. It is with much pride and affection that he speaks of Lauren and Trace. “Although winning championships in athletics, making it through some of the most intense military training and becoming a Navy diver, or being the first in my family receive a college degree and play football for Bobby Bowden, it is my children that are on my mind and in my heart every day,” Fillyaw emphasized.