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Career Army officer was a father first

Vincent Terrana retired from the Army to spend more time with his wife, children and granddaughter.

© St. Petersburg Times
published April 19, 2002


* * *

Tampa native Vincent Terrana was a career Army officer whose accomplishments included three tours of duty in the Vietnam War as a member of the Special Forces.

But family members won't remember him simply as a Green Beret.

"He never let us walk by without reaching out to touch or hug us and tell us he loved us," said his youngest daughter, Alisha Nelson.

"That was his favorite saying: I love you."

Mr. Terrana, 70, died Saturday at his South Tampa home, less than a month after discovering he had inoperable cancer.

"You can't put into words how good of a man he was, what a great father," said his son, Vincent "Perry" Terrana.

In the 1950s, Mr. Terrana joined the Army after graduating from Florida Southern College in Lakeland.

He was in training at Fort Benning when he met the woman who would become the love of his life.

"He asked me to dance," said Judy Terrana, a Georgia native.

It was spring. They married that fall, 44 years ago.

Through the years, the family lived in many different places.

"It seemed like the higher up he got, the more he was away from us," said Judy Terrana.

Enough was enough. Mr. Terrana wanted more time with his family. His eldest daughter, Sherri Terrana, was in college when he retired and moved the family to Tampa.

Not one to sit still, he went to work at the Hillsborough County Sheriff's Office as an evidence technician and joined the Sons of Italy, Lodge No. 1251. His grandfather, an Italian immigrant, was one of the lodge's founders in the 1920s.

Frank Colletti, another Sons of Italy member, learned pretty quickly how to get his friend's dander up.

"All you had to do was call him Vinny," said Colletti of Spring Hill.

As a state officer in the Sons of Italy, Mr. Terrana didn't budge when he made up his mind.

"When he knew he was right, the tide of the world wasn't going to change him," Colletti said.

Five-year-old Sabra Nelson knew her grandfather adored her.

If she didn't want to walk, he'd put her on his shoulders. When she wanted to play in the yard, he'd climb into a large plastic wash bucket with her. If she wanted to play a game, he was ready.

And he'd tell her: "You're never too old to get a spanking, and you're old enough for your wants not to hurt you."

She's memorized the words.

As the family recalled their patriarch, Sherri Terrana said, "His real career was husband, father and grandfather."

To those who knew him best, he was the "grand duke," a nickname granddaughter Sabra inadvertently gave her Grandpa.

In addition to his wife and three children, Mr. Terrana is survived by a brother, Jack Terrana, and a granddaughter, Emily Nelson.

- City Times chronicles the lives of the famous and not-so-famous. To suggest an obituary, call 226-3382.

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