What do you call a soldier in the theater of war who dies of a heart attack
while playing touch football?
You call him a hero - just as you would any soldier who dies while honorably
serving our country.
U.S. Army Master Sgt. Tom Thigpen deserves the title. It's sad; the 1970
Evans High School graduate collapsed last week in Kuwait during a pickup
football game with fellow soldiers, so the 52-year-old south Augusta
resident's long-awaited homecoming took the form of a funeral Tuesday with
full military honors.
Many others have died from combat injuries or vehicle crashes during the war
with Iraq. Thigpen's death came far from the battlefield, but that in no way
diminishes his service.
This is a man who joined the Marines during the Vietnam War, and later
continued his military career by enlisting in the National Guard. He not
only answered the call of his country, but in the era of the draft, he
offered his service before he was asked.
And Thigpen's service didn't stop when the uniform came off. He made himself
available for that noble yet often ill-regarded calling: referee. In
addition to braving the taunts for tough calls in Fort Gordon football,
basketball and softball, Thigpen volunteered as a Scout leader and as a
youth leader in his church.
When called up for Guard duty after the war began, Thigpen didn't hesitate
to again answer even though he was due for retirement - and even though it
meant the sacrifice of leaving behind not only his own children and
grandchildren, but all those other kids whose lives he has helped to shape.
Those aren't just the actions of a good man - they're the stripes of a hero.
Tom Thigpen went to war so the rest of us could stay home and send our own
kids to ball games. That's honorable service, and it earns the thanks of a
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