Tuesday, June 29, 2004

'He's just a sweet guy'

Friends cherish happy images of Maupin

By Reid Forgrave
The Cincinnati Enquirer

UNION TWP. - Until now, the world has known two images of Army Spc. Matt Maupin, the 20-year-old Glen Este High School graduate taken hostage in Iraq when his convoy was attacked by insurgents 81 days ago.

One is his military photograph, his chin jutting out, his demeanor seeming to say he's as tough as any soldier.


The other is the video of an unshaven young soldier in a floppy military hat, his expressions a cross of bewilderment, fright and anger. With five gunmen with kaffiyehs covering their faces roaming by, Maupin identifies himself to the camera and the world: "Keith Matthew Maupin," a "soldier from the 1st Division."

Now, it may have a third - a grainy video image of what appears to be a U.S. soldier, his face turned from the camera, shot in the back of the head.

Monday, the 20-year-old Army reservist's family in Union Township was briefed on the existence of the tape by Army officers who have been at their side since the family's ordeal began. The officers told the media in no uncertain terms that, until the video can be thoroughly analyzed, there is no indication that it shows the death of Maupin or any other U.S. soldier.

The Arab television network Al-Jazeera reported Monday that Iraqi militants said Maupin, held hostage for nearly three months, was killed because the U.S. government did not change its policy in Iraq. But U.S. military officials said there was no confirmation of the report.

Maupin, 20, was last seen in captivity, in the video first shown April 16 on Al-Jazeera.

Whether or not the soldier in that dark video is Maupin, whose 21st birthday is July 13, the friends, family and classmates who know him in his Clermont County hometown have more lasting images of Matt Maupin.

They see Maupin's winning, all-American smile.

They see the rock-solid physique that covers a soft heart.

They see the blossoming young man who joined the Army reserves for college money to study aerospace engineering. They see the private first class who left for Iraq and told people not to worry about him.

And they pray that Maupin will return to the life he has set out for himself, the one interrupted on April 9.

Growing up in suburbia, Maupin always was close to his younger brother, Micah, a Marine sent home from Pensacola, Fla., to be with family after Matt's capture.

Matt Maupin's sister, Leanne Spencer, is escorted to her mother Carolyn Maupin's Clermont County home by Union Township police officer Jim Brown Monday afternoon.
(Glenn Hartong photo)
Meghann Currie worked at Sam's Club with Maupin, and shortly before Maupin left for basic training, co-workers set them up on a date. Currie worked on register 5, Maupin stocking goods in the center section.

After both finished a day shift at Sam's Club, Maupin drove her to Outback Steakhouse.

"Hold on," Maupin said to Currie after he opened the car door for her. "I gotta get something."

He reached into the trunk of his beat-up, four-door red Chevy Nova, pulling out three red roses, tied together at the stems. He had stored them in a cooler during their work shift.

"These are for you," Maupin, eyes looking down, said in his soft voice.

"He's just a sweet guy, the perfect gentleman," Currie said.

He played three years on the Glen Este High School football team. Maupin was the hardest worker on the team, said head coach Zak Taylor.

Maupin joined the Reserves to help pay for his education.

In letters to friends he sent during his nine weeks of basic training in Fort Jackson, S.C., Maupin wrote typical critiques of first encounters with military life: bad food, no sleep, lots of running.

But, attuned to frequent exercise with his two-hour morning trips to an Eastgate gym before going to work, Maupin asked his training officers for more PT - more push-ups and sit-ups and running.

Before leaving for Iraq, Maupin took classes in aerospace engineering at the University of Cincinnati. Friends and professors called him studious but lighthearted, an all-around good guy.

Shortly before Maupin left for Iraq, he went to talk with Jack Cleland, an assistant manager at Sam's Club who fought in the Gulf War.

Maupin showed Cleland his orders, which had him deployed until January 2006.

"I told him, 'Be careful when you're over there,' " Cleland said.

"Don't worry about me," was Matt's reply. "I'll be back."


Staff writer Howard Wilkinson and the Associated Press contributed. E-mail rforgrave@enquirer.com

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