Soldier extended service to care for younger soldiers

Thomas Thigpen’s military service began in the Marine Corps during Vietnam as a helicopter mechanic and ended in Kuwait in 2004 as a member of the Army National Guard.

 

Thigpen, a master sergeant, was just months away from retiring when he received the call in February 2003 that his battalion in Greenville, S.C., had been activated for combat. He filed an extension for service and went along with his unit to Camp Doha, Kuwait in April. His wife of 26 years and the mother of his two children couldn’t understand his decision.

“I asked him, ‘why are you doing this?’ ” Theresa Thigpen recalled.

Her husband responded that his soldiers were young and needed his help. The Columbia County resident’s devotion to duty wasn’t surprising given that he was born at Fort Gordon and was named after his father Thomas, who was stationed there.

“That’s what they sign up for,” she said. “That’s the ultimate act for a soldier.”

Thigpen reported for duty at Camp Doha in April 2003. His job was to disperse soldiers to various jobs and locations according to their ability.

After nearly a year, he and the other soldiers reported to Camp Virginia, Kuwait to begin cleaning equipment and preparing to return to the U.S. But following a physical training exercise in March 2004, Thigpen had a massive heart attack and died. He was 52 years old.

Her husband had no medical history regarding his heart, Thigpen said.

She said his medical record showed a visit to the medic in October 2003 where he complained of chest pain, but it was determined to be acid reflux.

About three months after his death, Thigpen received her husband’s locker from Camp Virginia. The contents included a leather jacket, baseball mitt, chessboard and a Mother’s Day card Thigpen had bought for his bride.

She received those items the day before Mother’s Day. She also received a phone call from then Georgia Gov. Sonny Perdue and a letter from President George W. Bush expressing their condolences.

Thigpen said there are still good and bad days. She quit her job after his death and went back to college and tries to stay busy with hobbies like traveling. Her two children and three grandchildren keep her busy as well.

“You look for someone who will replace your husband, but you’re not going to find it,” Thigpen said. “You find a new normal.”

EDITOR’S NOTE: Threatened to be lost in the recent controversy involving President Trump and Gold Star families is the sacrifice fallen service members made to the country. Augusta Chronicle reporters Nefeteria Brewster and Amanda King talked to family members of five such heroes who have local ties to let them tell the stories of their loved ones.

-- Theresa Thigpen lost her husband Master Sgt.Thomas Thigpen in 2003 in Kuwait during the buildup to Operation Iraqi Freedom. | PROFILE

-- Cindy Guthrie’s brother, Kenneth Nichols Jr., was killed in 2009 in Afghanistan. | PROFILE

-- Kim Elle’s father, Air Force Capt. Ted Sweeting, who served two tours in Vietnam, was killed in a 1971 plane crash while stationed in Holland. | PROFILE

-- Quamisha Nelson’s husband, Spc. Joshua N. Nelson, was among four soldiers killed in 2012 by Afghan soldiers being trained by the U.S. | PROFILE

-- Neal and Lucy Dillon lost their son, Cpl. Matthew Dillon, in 2006 in Iraq. | PROFILE

When Theresa Thigpen asked her husband why he extended his military service so he could go with his battalion to Kuwait, he said they needed him. It was a response worthy of those who make the ultimate sacrifice for their country.

“That’s what they sign up for,” she said about the mentality of service members. “That’s the ultimate act for a soldier.”

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