By Reid Forgrave
The Cincinnati Enquirer
UNION TOWNSHIP - An apprehensive hometown continued hoping and praying Wednesday for the safe return of native son Pfc. Keith Matthew Maupin.
Maupin's second month in captivity in Iraq began this week with another American hostage being killed amid outcry over U.S. treatment of Iraqi prisoners.
As the nation cringed Tuesday at replays of the final moments of Nick Berg's life before a gruesome execution by his Iraqi captors, faith-filled Clermont County had Maupin in thoughts and prayers. He has been held hostage by Iraqi insurgents since his convoy was ambushed April 9.
"The fact we haven't heard anything about Matt, that gives us hope," said Mitchel Cohen, general manager at the Eastgate Sam's Club, where Maupin worked before leaving for Iraq. "If they did anything bad to Matt, the only way they would think they could gain from it is by showing it to us. ... We're just all trying to stay positive."
That's the perception of many residents in this tightly knit, patriotic county, its hope pouring forth in stars and stripes and yellow ribbons in the month since the 20-year-old Glen Este High School graduate and Army reservist was captured.
Tuesday, Maupin's family extended its sympathies to Berg's family. It was a day that a Maupin family spokesman said was the family's worst since receiving word of his capture. Berg, a 26-year-old civilian contractor from the Philadelphia area, was heard screaming on a video posted on the Internet and broadcast throughout the world when his captors cut off his head.
April 16, news outlets around the world had followed the Arab television station Al-Jazeera's lead in showing a video of Maupin, wearing a floppy military hat, surrounded by five gunmen with kaffiyehs covering their faces.
Family members haven't received any new information about Maupin's whereabouts since then, even after Thomas Hamill, captured the same time as Maupin, escaped May 2. President Bush visited privately with the Maupin family when he came to Southwest Ohio last week.
"Even though it's been over a month without receiving word about their son, their faith has not wavered one bit," said Maj. Mark Magalski, an Army spokesman who has been with the Maupin family since the capture. "The whole family is just praying all the time. ... The family was understandably upset about (Berg's killing). It obviously hits very close to home."
Much of the Clermont community continues to think positively about Maupin.
"Hope and faith and perseverance are all part of the human spirit that keeps us focused on the right things," said June Creager, director of the Clermont County Ohio Convention and Visitors Bureau, which has distributed armloads of yellow ribbons. "We're staying very focused, very hopeful and very prayerful. It sounds like a simple thing, but it really is as easy as that."
The convention and visitors bureau is making 100,000 postcards showing several yellow ribbons displayed around the county for military support groups and schoolchildren to mail to troops overseas.
One senior citizen who lives two miles from Maupin's home has some special insight into Maupin's situation.
"I truly believe he'll make it home," said Lee Whitaker, a Union Township resident who was a prisoner of war for more than three years during the Korean War. "If they were going to do something to the boy, they would have done something to him long ago. I just hope he can have the strength to be brought through this."
Clermont County Sheriff A.J. "Tim" Rodenberg, whose son, Nick, is serving in Iraq now, said seeing Berg's execution puts the Clermont community even more on edge.
"I wouldn't necessarily look at this as bad news for Matt, but it's certainly troubling," Rodenberg said. "We just have to remember that more hostages have been released than have been killed. The best way to show our resolve is to show the bad guys that this sort of stuff doesn't do any good."
Islamic Center of Greater Cincinnati condemns beheading
The Islamic Center of Greater Cincinnati, in West Chester Township, released a statement Wednesday about the beheading of American civilian Nick Berg in Iraq.
"The Muslim Community of Cincinnati is horrified and repulsed by the images of Nick Berg's barbaric execution in Iraq. The perpetrators of such despicable conduct are an ugly blot on the image of Islam and Muslims through the world. They are deserving of the harshest condemnation possible, regardless of anybody's religious or ethnic affiliation.
"Our deepest sympathies and prayers are with the family of Mr. Berg. We are also praying for the safety of Matt Maupin and all the civilians caught in the midst of hostilities in Iraq."
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