Sunday, April 18, 2004

Support, optimism pour forth for hostage



By Reid Forgrave
The Cincinnati Enquirer

[photo]
Supporters have placed signs and flags at Pfc. Matt Maupin's alma mater, Glen Este High School.
The Cincinnati Enquirer/TONY JONES
MOUNT CARMEL - Ron Hartman pulls Pfc. Matt Maupin's crisp new membership card from his wallet as a half-dozen veterans gather around a table in the American Legion Post 72 club room.

Maupin, member ID number 000515 for the local legion post, was voted into the post on March 26, two weeks before he was declared missing after an April 9 convoy attack near Baghdad.

Maupin, who was not visibly injured, was shown Friday surrounded by five hooded people on Al-Jazeera TV. There was no word on Maupin's condition Saturday, but the armed insurgents holding him in Iraq said they want to trade the 20-year-old Union Township man for prisoners being held by the coalition.

Coalition Provisional Authority spokesman Dan Senor said at a news briefing "we will not negotiate with hostage-takers" and the coalition will do what it can to pursue the release of hostages.

But Hartman and fellow veterans were already discussing the party they want to throw for Maupin when he is released and comes home.

"As soon as Matt gets back, we're going to have the biggest party we've ever had at this post," says Hartman, the post commander. "When he walks in here, he's not going to have one set of arms welcome him. He'll have 800 sets of arms welcoming him."

RELATED STORIES
Maupin vigil
• Photos: A family, and a community, react
View the Al-Jazeera video
• Video coverage from WCPO

Today's coverage:
Yellow ribbons, flags fly off shelves in support of soldier

Previous coverage:
Hope eases horror for community
Area's mood turns hopeful
POW status could be a good thing
Glen Este prays
War hits close to home
Batavia reservist MIA

YOUR THOUGHTS
The veterans are eager for the opportunity to welcome Maupin into the post. The flag-waving, yellow-ribbon-donning residents of the village of Batavia and Greater Clermont County also can't wait to welcome home the 20-year-old graduate of Glen Este High School.

All over Clermont County, veterans and residents expressed optimism for the soldier's safe return.

"It does my heart so good to see such an outpouring of support," Clermont County commissioner Bob Proud said at a Friday night vigil for Maupin on the courthouse steps. "One thing I always say is that we're a family of about 185,000 people out here in Clermont County. And when something like this happens, we all rally behind our family."

'Caution is the watchword'

The military officially lists Maupin as "DUSTWUN" - duty status whereabouts unknown. Military spokesmen have given little information to the media and the public since the videotape was released Friday, instead asking media to respect the volatility of the hostage situation.

"Right now it would be careless for us to give out any information about the videotape or Pfc. Maupin's status," army spokesman Major Mark Magalski said Saturday outside an elementary school down the street from Maupin's home. "It's still an ongoing case, and we don't want to do anything to jeopardize something in progress. Right now, caution is the watchword."

Magalski said Department of Defense counselors specializing in hostage situations were talking with the Maupin family about different scenarios that may play out for Maupin. Ever since a videotape aired on the Arab Al-Jazeera news network that showed Maupin still alive but captive, family, friends and neighbors all around Clermont County have been optimistic about his fate. Friends and neighbors are sure to use the word "when," not "if," when referring to Maupin's return. Yellow ribbons are tied on trees and parking meters and American flags flutter outside businesses and home throughout the county to show support for Maupin, who was a truck driver in the U.S. Army Reserve's 724th Transportation Company.

At the Sam's Club where Maupin worked before he was sent to Iraq, workers handed customers Maupin pins that bear the soldier's picture.

National response

Support for his family is coming from across the nation.

Keith "Matt" Maupin
• 20 years old

• Private First Class in the U.S. Army Reserve's 724th Transportation Company, based in Bartonville, Ill.

• He was one of two American soldiers reported missing April 9 after the convoy they were in was attacked by rocket-propelled grenades and small-arm fire west of Baghdad. Seven employees of a civilian contractor were also declared missing. Their fate is not yet known.

• Graduate of Glen Este High School in 2001. He maintained a 3.5 grade point average and played football for three years.

• Joined American Legion Post 72 in March, while in Iraq.

• His younger brother, Micah, just completed boot camp in the U.S. Marine Corps and was sent home to be with his family.

A representative for the Rev. Jesse Jackson, who has worked with officials in effecting the release of American hostages held in Yugoslavia, Syria, Cuba and Iraq, called The Cincinnati Enquirer Saturday to get in contact with the Maupin family to offer Jackson's support and services.

Jackson is going to contact religious leaders in Iraq to seek the release of Thomas Hamill, 43, an American civilian truck driver abducted in Iraq on April 9, according to Hamill's family.

Former prisoner of war Jessica Lynch released a statement Saturday in support of the family.

"The news of Pfc. Keith Matthew Maupin's capture is upsetting to me and I know it is for all Americans, too," Lynch said. "It's very, very important that we keep Pfc. Maupin, and all of our American soldiers, on our thoughts and prayers."

Lynch, a former Army supply clerk, is recovering from injuries suffered when her 507th Maintenance Company got lost in the southern Iraqi desert and was ambushed in March 2003. She was later rescued by U.S. troops.

Internet message boards in support of Maupin and his family have elicited responses from every corner of the country.

But it's in tightly knit Batavia where the love of country and of the former high school football star Maupin is most evident.

Army Spc. Sean Hogan, a 1995 graduate of Glen Este High School, spent 182 days fighting in Iraq in 2003 with the Army's Third Infantry Division. He went to Friday evening's vigil to pray for the safe return of his "brother."

"He's a soldier, he's a fellow combatant," Hogan said, clutching an American flag and wearing an Army jacket. "That's all the Army is, one big family."

At the American Legion lodge, veterans beaming with patriotism say the entire community is praying for Maupin.

"We're a close-knit group of people here," says Bill Mason of Mount Carmel, chaplain for Post 72. "When tragedy strikes, we just get even closer. What happens to one of us happens to all of us."

In the smoky legion bar, post commander Hartman says the community needs to keep the hope for a safe return.

"We know he's going to return well, we just know it," Hartman says. "It's just that faith you have to have. But he's definitely on our minds all the time now.

"Iraq is half a world away, but it's right down the street from us now."

The Associated Press contributed. E-mail rforgrave@enquirer.com




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