By Reid Forgrave
The Cincinnati Enquirer
UNION TWP. - Two months ago this week, he was the man who uttered to Carolyn Maupin the words every military mother dreads:
Maj. Mark Magalski marches with Carolyn and Keith Maupin last month at a school's Memorial Day parade. Magalski was assigned to the Maupin family after Matt Maupin went missing in Iraq.
The Cincinnati Enquirer/GLENN HARTONG
"The secretary of the Army has asked me to inform you that your son, Matt, has been ..."
Every day since, Maj. Mark Magalski has been at the side of this Clermont County family, acting as a conduit for military information, as a shield from the media spotlight and as a navigator through the sometimes choppy waters of military bureaucracy.
Magalski, the operations officer for the 633rd Quartermaster Battalion in Sharonville, serves as the casualty assistance officer for the family of Spc. Keith Matthew Maupin, the Union Township soldier taken hostage by Iraqi insurgents more than two months ago.
"Casualty assistance officer - the family doesn't like that title," said Magalski, whose own 20-year-old son serves in the Air Force. "That implies he's a casualty. But we just don't know. The hardest thing on the family is that uncertainty. It's pretty frustrating because there's just no news to report to them."
WORDS OF SUPPORT
To reach the Maupin family with words of encouragement or personal letters, send mail to: Clermont Yellow Ribbon, P.O. Box 200, Batavia, OH 45103, Attn.: Maupin Family. Online message boards at www.clermontyellowribbon.com.
Post your words of support:
Special section on Matt Maupin
Maupin, 20, was first reported as "DUSTWUN" - duty status whereabouts unknown - on April 9 after rocket-propelled grenades and small arms fire rained in on his mile-long convoy near Baghdad.
After a video aired around the world on April 16 showed an unshaven, bewildered Maupin with his captors, his official status was changed to "missing," then to "captured."
Maupin has become America's longest-held military hostage during wartime since the end of the Vietnam War. As the family begins its third month of knowing little about the status of their son, Magalski stands by and waits with them.
He accompanied them to Memorial Day parades at elementary schools and candlelight vigils at churches. He sorts through the mail of sympathy and support the family has received - more than 7,500 packages and letters.
He works through problems with Maupin's finances. He distributes family statements to newspapers and guards the family from zealous media outlets from around the world, including one television reporter who crept through the Maupins' back yard trying to get an interview.
He gives the family advance notice of breaking news from Iraq relating to their son, such as civilian contractor Thomas Hamill escaping captivity or civilian hostage Nick Berg being beheaded.
Magalski, who lives at Wright-Patterson Air Force Base in Dayton, will stay at the family's side until the plight of the 2001 Glen Este High School graduate is resolved.
"You try to do what you can to shield the family from stressful situations, whether it's media or visitors or mail," Magalski said. "You don't create any undue stress for the family. And you try not to give the family any false hope."
The military's best estimate is that Maupin remains captured.
"The family remains cautiously optimistic," Magalski said. "They can't say 'thank you' enough to everyone who has helped them get through this tough time. They want people to know, no matter how long it takes, that they will have the faith to bring him back."
Since Matt's capture, Keith and Carolyn Maupin, composed and smiling, have appeared at vigils and parades in honor of their son. They speak about patriotism, ask Americans to support the troops and encourage people to display yellow ribbons in yards and candles in windows. They take solace in knowing that their son's captors say they are holding him according to Islamic law, and they take comfort in seeing a video last week of Italian hostages in good health.
They gain strength from the messages of support they've received from around the world, and they read them all. But the parents have declined to speak publicly about their son.
"They don't want any of that information used against him by his captors," Magalski said, adding that escaped hostage Hamill's captors tormented him with videos of his family crying and begging for his return.
"It's totally up to the family whether they speak or not. But they understand the significance of not going on camera and speaking about Matt. The last thing you'd want is for them to break down on camera and for the captors to get hold of the video."
Magalski says it's easy for any American to get attached to the story of the former football player. In letters to the family, people say Maupin's face reminded them of their own son.
"He's the average soldier from the average family in small-town America," Magalski said. "It makes people realize that this could happen to anyone. The family wants to impart that Matt is just one soldier over there. Let's keep praying for all the soldiers that they may come back to their loved ones."
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