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One final salute

The term “citizen soldier,” coined by the late military historian Stephen E. Ambrose, would fit Major Gen. (retired) Carroll Thackston to a tee.

Thackston, mayor of South Boston since 2004 and former adjutant general of the Virginia National Guard, died Sunday at Lynchburg General Hospital after a long illness.

Many who knew him fondly referred to him as “The General,” and to others he was “Mayor Thackston” or simply “Mr. Mayor.”

Thackston was a person who was greater than the sum of his parts, and there were many of them.

A tireless supporter of veterans, Thackston appeared before the House Committee on Veterans’ Affairs in July 2010 to advocate for Virginia’s rural veterans.

According to Thackston’s testimony, there were 1,127 veterans in Halifax County enrolled in the Veterans Administration system at the end of fiscal year 2009 and 2,954 civilian veterans overall, according to the most recent census data.

I bet you “The General” strived to meet and get to know as many of them as possible.

Thackston had a good sense of humor, often responding to kidding by fellow councilmen about his trek down North Main Street to get his favorite breakfast biscuit with a good-natured counter attack.

A familiar face at ribbon-cutting ceremonies for new businesses or industries, Mayor Thackston would often take me aside and point to a list of scheduled speakers, with his name down on the list.

“They always steal my thunder,” Thackston joked, leaving him with his trademark remark, “It’s another great day for South Boston.”

The “soldier” in Thackston allowed him to be assertive if he needed to be, but the “citizen” in him allowed him also to be passionate and compassionate when it came to dealing with individual concerns and helping guide the town through tough economic times.

He was able to balance both sides effectively.

As the son of a World War II veteran, I have always maintained great respect for those men and women who wear the respective uniforms of our Armed Forces.

We can never fully repay them for their service and sacrifice.

Unfortunately, the roll call for many of our veterans is growing shorter by the day, but as General Douglas MacArthur pointed out in his address to Congress in 1951, “Old soldiers never die, they just fade away.”

One of South Boston’s finest citizen soldiers has pounded the gavel and hung up his uniform for the last time.