Wednesday, June 30, 2004

The vigil continues

Tense day passes with no confirmation of soldier's fate

By Reid Forgrave
Enquirer staff writer


Photos: Community prays for Maupin
UNION TOWNSHIP - Another day of anxiety for the family of Army Spc. Keith "Matthew'' Maupin passed on Tuesday with no official confirmation on the whereabouts of the captured soldier, a day after a grainy video aired on the Arab TV network Al-Jazeera, purporting to show his execution.

Army officials said the 20-year-old Glen Este High School graduate's status remains "captured" - the same as it has been since after his convoy was attacked April 9 by Iraqi insurgents - and that the Maupin family continues to pray for his safe return.

"They're still cautiously optimistic," said Maj. Mark Magalski, the Maupin family casualty assistance officer who has visited the family daily since Maupin's convoy was attacked near Baghdad with rocket-propelled grenades and small arms.

"This whole ordeal has been so hard on the family," he said.

"Today is just another day of uncertainty for them."

Magalski and Maj. Willie Harris, public affairs officer from the 88th Regional Readiness Command, convened a brief press conference Tuesday afternoon at Willowville Elementary School, near the Maupin home, to dispel rumors that had been reported in the media in recent days.

Harris referred to a report broadcast Tuesday morning on a local radio station that Carolyn Maupin, Matt's mother, had viewed the Al-Jazeera's videotape claiming to be footage of her son's execution.

No one in the family, nor Magalski or Harris, had seen the videotape, the two Army officials said.

"I'm letting the experts do their job," Harris said, referring to Department of Defense investigators who continue to examine the videotape. It shows a man, facing away from the camera, appearing slightly slumped over and dressed in an American military uniform, being shot in the back of the head, then dumped into a shallow grave.

• Clermont County will sponsor a prayer vigil for Sgt. Charles Kiser, 37, an Amelia native who was killed in Iraq last week when his convoy was attacked, at 7 p.m. Monday at Clermont County Courthouse, 270 E. Main St., Batavia.

• The Stuart G. Luginbuhl Post 72 of the American Legion, the post Matt Maupin joined in March, will hold a "Salute the Troops" event from 8 p.m. to midnight July 10 at the post, 497 Old Ohio 74, Mount Carmel. Tickets, $15 or $25 per couple, are available at Harley-Davidson of Cincinnati, 699 Old Ohio 74, Summerside. There will be food, entertainment, raffles and door prizes.

In the video, an Arabic speaker identifies the man as Maupin, who is now the U.S. soldier held hostage longer than any since the Vietnam War.

On Monday, Harris berated local television stations that broadcast an "incorrect," "premature" and "not substantiated" report that Maupin was, in fact, the man shown being executed in the video.

Throughout the region, friends and supporters of the Maupins continued their communitywide prayer that has gone on since Maupin, a member of the 724th Transportation Company, was reported missing.

He was among nine Americans who disappeared after the April 9 attack. Five have since been confirmed dead, a civilian driver later escaped and two others are still missing.

A week later, Maupin appeared alive in a video broadcast on Arabic television, surrounded by captors armed with automatic weapons..

'Thank you for serving Matt'

The past two days, news media from around the world have crammed into the Maupins' quiet, wooded neighborhood. Neighbors appear not pleased. Dozens of passersby shouted vulgarities at reporters gathered across the street from the Maupin home Monday, telling them to get a real job and to respect the family's privacy.

At the Hungry Bear Diner on Old Ohio 74, a sign in the window read, "Media welcome - no interviews please."

The support for Maupin was evident throughout Clermont County on Tuesday, with seemingly every telephone pole, street sign and lamppost tied with yellow ribbons. Some of the ribbons had turned nearly white from months in the sun, while others gleamed in their freshness.

A bank of eight television cameras stood in front of the sign at Willowville, where Maupin attended more than a decade ago. The sign read: "Thank you for serving Matt. We're thinking of you! -Mrs. Branham's class."

Pam Branham, Maupin's fourth-grade teacher, and her class of fourth-graders had sent letters and care packages to Maupin in Iraq before he was captured.

In the front window of the Maupin house, a single electric candle burned.

The family did not speak in public Tuesday, and Army officials said the Maupins would keep quiet until new information on the whereabouts of Matt Maupin comes to light.

But Magalski did send a message from the Maupin family, saying their prayers are with the family of Sgt. Charles Kiser, an Amelia native who was killed last week in Mosul, Iraq, after a car bomb explosion.

"The Maupin family wanted me to make sure people remember Sgt. Chuck Kiser, who died Thursday in Iraq," Magalski said. "The public remembers he paid the ultimate sacrifice and should be remembered as a hero."

Clermont County will hold a ceremony 7 p.m. Monday at the courthouse in Batavia to honor Kiser, a 37-year-old reservist who graduated from McNicholas High School and attended the University of Cincinnati before he joined the Navy.

He was deployed in January with the 330th Military Police Division reserve unit, based in Fort McCoy, Wis. Kiser will be buried today in Wisconsin.


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