Thomas and Margaret Thigpen last saw their son, Army National Guard Master Sgt. Thomas Thigpen, last Thanksgiving when he was on leave from his post in Kuwait.
"He came back by the house one last time before he headed back to Kuwait and I told him to be careful," Mr. Thigpen said, who lives in Martinez. "He told me, 'Daddy, don't worry. I've got 200 guys watching my back."'
On Tuesday, the Thigpens buried their son with full military honors at Hillcrest cemetery in Augusta.
Master Sgt. Thigpen, 52, died last week from a heart attack during a touch football game at Camp Virginia, Kuwait.
The death of the seemingly healthy soldier hit his family hard, and his parents said they are still trying to cope with the loss.
Thomas and Margaret Thigpen of Martinez hold photos of their son, Thomas.
Photo by Jim Blaylock
"When I first heard, I was crushed," Mr. Thigpen said last week from the living room of his single-story home tucked into a corner of Tallman Drive. "I'm better now, but I know the funeral is going to get me all over again."
Master Sgt. Thigpen lived in Augusta with his wife. The father of two and grandfather of two grew up in Martinez and graduated from Evans High School in 1970.
Exploring was a favorite past-time of Master Sgt. Thigpen as boy growing in the then rural area of Martinez, Mrs. Thigpen said.
"I don't think there was a single acre between here and the (Savannah River) that Tommy didn't put his foot on," she said. "He loved to be outdoors."
Childhood playmate Ken Courson remembered him as a quiet boy.
"He was kind of shy and reserved, but he was a good guy," Courson said.
"My recollection is he was a nice guy," said Thomas Holley, another 1970 Evans High graduate. "I'm glad a story is being done him. Certainly our soldiers deserve at least that."
After high school, Master Sgt. Thigpen served a stint in the U.S. Marine Corps before heading to Augusta College, now Augusta State University, for a business degree.
He worked as a civilian budget analyst for the 15th Signal Brigade at Fort Gordon. He joined the National Guard while working at Fort Gordon and was stationed with the 151st Signal Battalion in Greenville, S.C.
After 20 years of service, he planned to retire from the Guard last June before his unit was called to serve in the Middle East.
Mr. Thigpen described his son as a caring leader who felt compelled to stand by the men serving under him.
"He said a lot of those guys would cry in his arms because they were homesick," he said. "I know he was homesick too, but he couldn't leave those guys. He felt like they needed someone a little older to help them through. He loved them like a second family."
In addition to his parents, Master Sgt. Thipgen is survived by his wife, Theresa; his son, Thomas R. Thigpen Jr.; his daughter, Tammy Thomas; two granddaughters, Morgan Thomas, 5, and Madison Thomas, 3; his brother, Michael Thigpen; and two sisters, Margaret Ann Wood and Linda Lee.
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