Wednesday, June 30, 2004

Thousands hold out hope

Fence-turned-memorial becomes a destination

By Howard Wilkinson
Enquirer staff writer

From neighbors laying flowers at a makeshift shrine in Union Township to a group of his fellow soldiers in Korea pouring out their hearts in e-mails, the story of Spc. Matt Maupin has touched countless individuals.

Messages to Matt Maupin's family - or any other American serviceman or woman serving overseas - can be posted on the Clermont County Yellow Ribbon Web site,
There is still no official word on whether the man in desert camouflage seen kneeling in a grainy videotape shown on Al Jazeera TV is the 20-year-old Army reservist from Union Township.

There is still no certainty about whether the young man who has been adopted by thousands nationwide is alive or dead.

Somehow, hope remains alive.

"My family is leaving town, but I wanted to come out here one more time to say a prayer for Matt,'' said Kitty Hapner of Hyde Park, who came to the chain-link fence outside Glen Este High School and Middle School over her lunch hour Tuesday.

The fence, a stone's throw from the football field where Maupin played high school ball a few short years ago, has become the focal point for Union Township residents and many others who want to show their support.

On it hangs a large photo portrait of Maupin, the standard-issue military photo of a square-jawed soldier in front of an American flag. Red, white and blue plastic cups shoved into the gaps of the chain-link fences spell out "USA'' and "Matt."

The ground around the display is nearly covered with bouquets of flowers, hand-printed poems and prayers, and tiny American flags.

Since the video that may or may not be Maupin surfaced Monday on Arab television, a steady stream of visitors has stopped by the fence, just off Glen Este-Withamsville Road, at all times day and night.

Hapner brought her 10-year-old son, Alex, who, she said, has asked in recent weeks why she cries so much.

"I tell him I'm worried about Matt Maupin and want him to come home," Hapner said.

Like many thousands of others who have written messages to the Maupin family on Web sites or prayed for his safety in the privacy of their own homes, Hapner has never met Maupin or his mother, Carolyn, or any other members of the family.

But she teaches a first-grade class at Willowville Elementary School in the Maupins' neighborhood, the same school Maupin attended.

For the last two months of the school year, after Maupin's capture on April 9, she said she would look at the 20 faces in her classroom "and see Matt Maupin sitting there."

For many in Greater Cincinnati - particularly those with sons and daughters in the military - the thought of a mother in Union Township living the nightmare of not knowing whether her son is alive or dead hits close to home.

Al and Donna Plaskon of Deerfield Township have a son, Aaron, serving in the Navy. He's out of harm's way, at least for the time being. But many of their friends in the Military Support Group, an organization of parents of active-duty military that has met in Blue Ash once a month for the past two years, have sons on the ground now in Iraq.

"It's hard to imagine how (Mrs. Maupin) has stood up through all this. It must be incredibly hard," Donna Plaskon said. "All sorts of things must have been going through her head all this time, not knowing where he is or how he is being treated.''

In Cleves, Patrick and Vicki Schmalle have sent both their sons to war - Patrick, who served last year and has returned to Fort Hood, Texas, and Michael, who is on his second tour of duty in Iraq.

"A day has not gone by for the last two months when I have not thought of Matt Maupin and his mother,'' Vicki Schmalle said. "I pray for her every day."

Ever since Maupin was captured in a raid on his military convoy, expressions of faith, hope and concern have poured in to the Maupin household and on to Web sites such as Clermont Yellow Ribbon, set up in April by local supporters.

Since he was kidnapped, the Clermont Yellow Ribbon site has received more than 700 messages of support for Maupin, his family and for other American troops serving overseas.

The messages come from all over Greater Cincinnati - from Fort Thomas, Hamilton, Middletown, Harrison, Norwood and dozens of other communities far removed from Maupin's hometown

And they come from across the country, as well, including South Carolina, New York, Florida, Alabama, Oklahoma and Connecticut.

One e-mail addressed to the Maupin family came from an Army chemical company stationed in South Korea.

"Thanks for allowing and supporting Matt to be a guardian of freedom and the American way of life," the soldiers in Korea wrote. "We pray every day for his safe return!"


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