3 Years Later, Parents of Soldier Missing From Iraq Still Hold Out Hope for Safe Return
BATAVIA, Ohio – Yellow ribbons across Sgt. Matt Maupin's hometown are constant reminders. Fundraising events in his honor draw overflow crowds. Soldiers back home relay details of the ongoing search for him in Iraq.
These are the signs of support and hope that keep Maupin's parents going three years after he was captured in an insurgent attack on his Army convoy.
Keith Maupin said he took comfort hearing from the father of a military interrogator in Iraq who said detainees are asked if they know anything about his missing son.
"He said, 'These guys are not going to give up on Matt. Their mission is to stay focused on finding Matt and get all the information they can out of these detainees,"' Keith Maupin said. "That made me feel good."
The Army won't confirm that detainees are questioned about Maupin.
"We don't talk about what we are or aren't doing," Lt. Col. Bob Tallman said. "We don't want to alert the enemy, who may do something to the individual or move him."
Sgt. Keith Matthew Maupin was always called Matt by his parents, since his father was named Keith. He was a 20-year-old private first class when he was captured April 9, 2004, when his fuel convoy, part of the 724th Transportation Company, was ambushed west of Baghdad.
A week later, the Arab television network Al-Jazeera aired a videotape showing Maupin sitting on the floor surrounded by five masked men holding automatic rifles.
That June, Al-Jazeera aired another tape purporting to show a U.S. soldier being shot. But the dark and grainy tape showed only the back of the victim's head and not the actual shooting.
The Maupins refuse to believe it was their son, and the Army continues to list him as missing/captured, Tallman said.
More than 1,000 people are expected at a banquet fundraiser Monday, the third anniversary of Maupin's capture. Some 700 bikers are expected the following Saturday for a motorcycle ride sponsored by Rolling Thunder, a POW-MIA awareness group. A youth baseball tournament in May drew more entries than it could handle, even though games will be played on several fields.
All are raising money for the Matt Maupin Scholarship Fund, seed money for scholarships given by the high schools attended by Cincinnati-area soldiers who died in Iraq or Afghanistan.
Keith Maupin has lost track of the number of briefings he and his former wife, Carolyn, have received from the Pentagon. They've been persistent and he thinks the Army is doing its best to find his son.
It doesn't hurt that the Maupins have met with President Bush and that White House Budget Director Rob Portman used to represent the Maupins' district in Congress.
"When you can get on the phone and call a three-star general, and he can call Iraq to find out what's going on, I don't know how much more they can do for me," Keith Maupin said.
Portman's successor, Republican Rep. Jean Schmidt, said she's been assured that the Army is still aggressively looking for Matt.
"There is as much evidence to point toward him being alive as otherwise," she said.
As long as the Maupins keep Matt's name alive, he is alive, they reason.
There's a yellow ribbon on every parking meter in Batavia, a close-knit, county-seat community east of Cincinnati.
"We won't let people forget," Clermont County Commissioner Bob Proud said. "Whenever we see yellow ribbons, we think about Matt and all our warriors. It always reminds me of the sacrifice that Matt and all of our troops have made."
Keith Maupin now works full time with the Yellow Ribbon Support Center, which Carolyn founded before their son was captured. Carolyn and Keith Maupin, though divorced, have united in their effort to be a touchstone for families who have lost loved ones in the war.
"A lot of people come in here and a lot of people call, and they just want to talk," Keith Maupin said. "That's OK by me; that's what we're here for."
The center has sent thousands of packages of snacks, toiletries, sun block, bug spray, games and other things to soldiers in Iraq, putting photos of Matt Maupin in every box. The center helped troops obtain donated computers to send and receive e-mail.
Keith Maupin finds some solace at the Yellow Ribbon Support Center, where he is surrounded by photos, paintings and posters of his son.
"I look at him all the time," he said. "This is about as close as I can get."