By Reid Forgrave
The Cincinnati Enquirer
UNION TOWNSHIP - With the lights dimmed and Pfc. Keith Matthew Maupin's picture projected on a screen above Wednesday evening, the captive soldier's father and younger brother walked to the front of First Baptist Church of Glen Este and lit a 6-foot-tall electric lantern as a symbol of hope for his safe return.
Keith Maupin, father of Matt Maupin, who was captured in Iraq, and Matt's brother Micah, turn on a lantern during the "Light The Way Home" ceremony Wednesday during a service at the First Baptist Church of Glen Este.
The Cincinnati Enquirer/CRAIG RUTTLE
Jennifer Ryan of Mount Orab rests her head on her husband, Scott's, shoulder during Wednesday night's service.
Then the lights rose in the cavernous church and an overflow crowd of nearly 1,300 people in the prayer service for the 20-year-old Glen Este High School graduate stood, waved American flags and sang "God Bless the U.S.A."
The nearly two-hour service was patriotic and spiritual, solemn and joyful as this tightly knit Clermont County community gathered for the third time in a week to pray for and show support for its native son, now held captive in Iraq.
Maupin's mother, Carolyn, gave a short address on videotape in her first public comments since her son was reported missing April 9.
"I want to sincerely express our family's gratitude for all of your support," she said. "It is truly amazing to see how everybody across the nation is sharing in prayer and support for Matt.
"Believe in that. Believe in the United States military. Believe in prayer."
Maupin's younger brother Micah, who returned last week from Marine training in Pensacola, Fla., and his father, Keith, switched on a lantern that will remain illuminated 24 hours a day to "light the way home" until Maupin returns from Iraq.
After the service, the light was to be taken to Veterans Memorial Park in Union Township and garnished with a yellow ribbon and purple and white flowers, the colors of Maupin's alma mater, Glen Este High School.
On April 9, Maupin was declared missing by military officials when the convoy in which he was driving a fuel truck was attacked near the village of Abu Ghraib, just west of Baghdad.
Days of anxiety followed in Maupin's Clermont County home as family and community awaited word of his whereabouts. News crews from around the nation converged on suburban Union Township and the tiny village of Batavia
A week later, Maupin's family, friends and neighbors breathed a sigh of relief when Maupin's picture was shown the world over after his captors sent a videotape to Al-Jazeera, the Arab television news network. The tape showed a bewildered but not visibly injured Maupin held hostage by five masked gunmen.
The insurgents clutched semiautomatic weapons as Maupin identified himself, and a gunman's voice could be heard in the background, saying, "He is one of many others."
To those close to Maupin, seeing his face on TV was bittersweet. The situation was still dire, but there was hope in seeing him alive, family and friends said.
Later that Friday, more than 500 supporters filled the streets of downtown Batavia for a rally in support of their hometown boy and other troops at war. It was the second in a string of rallies held for Maupin, as much of Clermont County - and beyond - placed thousands of yellow ribbons on trees, houses, businesses and themselves in a show of support.
The community remains optimistic about Maupin's safe return, making sure to use "when" and not "if" when referring to Maupin's return home.
Bush administration officials said over the weekend that the country refuses to negotiate with the hostage-takers, who want to exchange Maupin and other hostages for Iraqi prisoners being held by the coalition.
Monday, Maupin's official status was changed from "duty status whereabouts unknown" to "captured," and family spokesman Carl Cottrell II stood before dozens of reporters and expressed the family's gratitude for the outpouring of support as well as its resolve to keep up hope that Maupin will return.
Wednesday night, the community reiterated its support for Maupin and his family.
"Matt's capture, I believe, has a positive to it," said David Stultz, a member of the Armed Forces Support Group of Clermont County, which Carolyn Maupin helped form eight months ago.
"It's focused the attention on our soldiers. It has renewed the support for what they're doing out there and the enthusiasm of our entire nation."
Stultz also announced the beginning of a display called the Clermont County Wall of Heroes. The exhibit, which is to go up today at Meijer in Eastgate, will showcase pictures of loved ones in the military.
Stultz also encouraged people to place small electric candles in their windows at home to "light the way home" for Maupin.
"I don't know tonight what the future holds for this dear young man, Matt Maupin," the Rev. Brent Snook said Wednesday night. "But I do know who the light is. And I know there is help when tragedy hits home.
"My good friend Jesus Christ is the answer to every problem in our lives."
The Armed Services Support Group of Clermont County is sending packages to troops serving overseas. Donations can be sent to The Armed Services Support Group at New Richmond National Bank of Mount Carmel, 511 Old Ohio 74, Cincinnati, OH, 45244.
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