|From Cincinnati Ohio, The Enquirer enquirer.com
Maupin laid to rest
'God could not have chosen a better soldier'
BY HOWARD WILKINSON AND CLIFF RADEL | HWILKINSON@ENQUIRER.COM | CRADEL@ENQUIRER.COM
Yes, there were many tears at Great American Ball Park on Sunday afternoon and later at Gate of Heaven Cemetery, as Staff Sgt. Matt Maupin was finally laid to rest.
But they were not all tears of sorrow.
Pride, love, appreciation for those who wear the uniform - those produced tears, too.
For the 3,502 who came through the turnstiles to pay their respects, for the 3,000 members of the Patriot Guard who remained outside, and for the small group of family and friends who buried him with military honors in a private ceremony later in the afternoon, the final chapter of the Clermont County soldier's saga was about both healing and thanksgiving. It was for healing the hurt of a family that had endured a four-year nightmare, and for thanksgiving that such young men and women are willing to sacrifice all for their country.
They came to witness the final chapter of a story that gripped the hearts of thousands here and elsewhere around the country for nearly four years - the story of a 20-year-old Army Reservist, assigned to guard a convoy near the Baghdad airport in April 2004 when a brutal attack by Iraqi insurgents left two of his fellow soldiers dead and him a captive.
Next to nothing was known of his fate until his body was found last month by U.S. soldiers northwest of Baghdad.
"In his service, he became a son to all of Batavia and a son to all of Ohio," Gov. Ted Strickland said. "The Maupins heard the prayers of people from across the state and across the world."
Sunday, old men in VFW and American Legion caps, veterans of long-ago wars, stood side by side with soldiers in desert camouflage, young enough to be their grandchildren. Bikers from Rolling Thunder, the Vietnam veterans, and the Patriot Guard, lined the streets outside.
And there were men and women by the hundreds who have sent their own sons and daughters to war in Iraq and Afghanistan - people who know it could have been them sitting in front of that casket.
As the crowd filed out after Sunday's funeral, Tim Nienaber, 54, of Price Hill leaned on a railing as he clutched an American flag. As the 338th Army Band sat along the first-base line and played "Wind Beneath My Wings," he stared straight ahead at the stage that minutes earlier had held Matt Maupin's casket.
"That could have been my son," Nienaber said. His son, Patrick, was stationed in Iraq when insurgents captured Matt Maupin.
"He did the same thing Matt did. He guarded convoys," Nienaber said.
"When he came home, we threw him one heck of a party. I wish Matt Maupin's mom and dad could have done that."
There were people there, too, like John and Carol Prazynski, father and stepmother to Lance Cpl. Taylor Prazynski, a Fairfield Marine who died in Iraq nearly three years ago. The Prazynskis, who have become good friends to Keith and Carolyn Maupin, were among the first to arrive at the ballpark Sunday morning, with Mary Alice Prazynski, the fallen Marine's grandmother.
Carol Prazynski said that what has impressed her most about the Maupins is that they have put so much time and effort into helping other military families while suffering through the agony of not knowing what happened to their own son.
"They have always honored all of the fallen; and have always been friends to all the Gold Star families," Carol Prazynski said.
It was a long and difficult day for the Maupin family - the day they had hoped and prayed would never come - but it began with a public outpouring of love and affection for them from the thousands at the ballpark and ended in the late afternoon when a small procession took the soldier to Gate of Heaven Cemetery in Montgomery, the final resting place for five other casualties of the Iraq war.
Keith and Carolyn Maupin, the soldier's parents, and his three siblings - Lee Ann Cottrell, Stephen Spencer, and Marine Sgt. Micah Maupin - buried Matt Maupin in a private ceremony, surrounded by a small circle of friends.
GOODBYES, PUBLIC AND PRIVATE
The Maupin family wanted the burial at Gate of Heaven Cemetery to be a private goodbye. But they also wanted to share Matt Maupin's return with the thousands of Cincinnati area people who have hoped and prayed for four years for his safe return.
That public part began Saturday morning with a 20-hour visitation at the Union Township Civic Center that saw about 10,000 people pass by his casket.
The service at Great American Ball Park was scheduled to last an hour, but stretched out for another half hour because of all the tributes delivered to the fallen soldier and the messages of solace delivered by the two Army chaplains who officiated.
The Maupin family sat directly in front of the platform where the casket rested, in a formation of 100 seats on the infield.
Army chaplain Jason Logan, from the Army's 88th Regional Readiness Command at Fort Snelling, Minn., began the funeral service promptly at 1 p.m., urging the audience to "celebrate the life of a unique soldier" and "to give God thanks for this special gift."
The soldier's brother-in-law, Carl Cottrell, delivered a eulogy in which he read letters the fallen soldier's siblings had written as a final tribute after his death.
A letter from his brother, Micah, now a Marine sergeant, spoke of how Matt had stepped in and saved his brother when he got into a fight with a bigger kid.
"I knew you would always be there for me, no matter what," Micah wrote. "God could not have chosen a better soldier than you."
Master Sgt. Billy Ray Durham, the Army recruiter who signed up Matt Maupin at the Eastgate recruiting station six years ago, spoke of a young soldier who was eager to enlist and who was disappointed when his original Army Reserve unit was deployed to Iraq and he could not go, because he had not yet completed training.
"Matt Maupin was not recruited; Matt walked into our station and enlisted," Durham said. "I knew from the start he would make an excellent soldier."
The young man, Durham said, "was smart enough to be a doctor or a lawyer, but he chose to become a soldier."
"I think of him every day and I don't think that will ever change," Durham said.
"We all wish that he had walked off that plane yesterday with that goofy smile I remember so well."
Many times during the ceremony, as tributes to Matt Maupin were delivered by speakers, the crowd would stand and applaud.
After the benediction was read, the pallbearers lifted the casket off its bier, while several dozen white doves were released from the visitors' dugout. The doves circled the ballpark, then flew out toward U.S. Bank Arena, as the soldier pallbearers slowly brought the casket down from the platform and 60 feet to the waiting hearse.
'AT LEAST HE'S HOME'
Keith and Carolyn Maupin walked behind the hearse as it drove slowly around the warning track and into the center field bay, where the funeral procession would begin. The 100 family members, friends and military officials who would accompany them to the cemetery followed behind the Maupins.
After they had exited the field, several soldiers came out to the platform and removed the army boots, rifle, helmet and dog tags that had been sitting in front of the casket. The crowd, which stood throughout the ending of the ceremony, applauded as the items were removed.
After the funeral, hundreds of mourners lingered outside the ballpark, many of them hugging one another, many wiping away tears.
Brooke Rogg, 8, from Newtown, and her friend, 12-year-old Sara Campbell, from Sharonville, held their homemade signs outside the ballpark.
"It was sad," Brooke said of the service. "But at least he's home with his family."
Sara Campbell wondered what she would say, if Maupin's mom and dad came up to her. Then, she pointed to the sign she made with her friend, Brooke. Sara's left hand circled the words: "We love you Matt!"
Enquirer reporter Lori Kurtzman contributed.
| March 31, 2008 0615PST
Ohio Soldier's Remains Found in Iraq
By TERRY KINNEY ? 49 minutes ago
BATAVIA, Ohio (AP) ? Sgt. Keith Matthew Maupin's parents vowed to never let the U.S. Army forget about finding their son.
Their efforts included trips to the Pentagon and even meeting with President Bush, but they ended in disappointment Sunday: An Army general told them the remains of Maupin, a soldier who had been listed as missing-captured in Iraq since 2004, had been found.
"My heart sinks, but I know they can't hurt him anymore," Keith Maupin said after receiving word about the remains of his son, who went by Matt.
The Army didn't say how or where in Iraq his son's remains were discovered, only that the identification was made with DNA testing, Maupin said. A shirt similar to the one his son was wearing at the time of his disappearance was also found.
The Army was continuing its investigation, Maupin said.
Lt. Lee Packnett, an Army public affairs officer in Washington, said an official statement about the identification would be released Monday.
Matt Maupin was a 20-year-old private first class when he was captured April 9, 2004, after his fuel convoy, part of the Bartonville, Ill.-based 724th Transportation Company, was ambushed west of Baghdad.
A week later, the Arab television network Al-Jazeera aired a videotape showing a stunned-looking Maupin wearing camouflage and a floppy desert hat, sitting on the floor surrounded by five masked men holding automatic rifles.
That June, Al-Jazeera aired another tape purporting to show a U.S. soldier being shot. But the dark and grainy tape showed only the back of the victim's head and not the execution.
The Maupins refused to believe their son was dead. They lobbied hard for the Army to continue listing him as missing-captured, fearing that another designation would undermine efforts to find him.
The Pentagon agreed to give the Maupins regular briefings, and Bush met with them when he traveled to Cincinnati.
Keith Maupin said the Army told him soon after his son's capture that there was only a 50 percent chance he would be found alive. He said he doesn't hold the Army responsible for his son's death, but that he did hold the Army responsible for bringing his son home.
"I told them when we'd go up to the Pentagon, whether he walks off a plane or is carried off, you're not going to leave him in Iraq like you did those guys in Vietnam," Maupin said.
Keith Maupin and his ex-wife, Carolyn, held a candlelight vigil Sunday night outside the Yellow Ribbon Support Center in Batavia, an office they used to package thousands of boxes of donated snacks and toiletries for shipment to soldiers in Iraq.
"It hurts," Carolyn Maupin said. "After you go through almost four years of hope, and this is what happens, it's like a letdown, so I'm trying to get through that right now."
The Maupins said they would hold to their previous plans for Monday and appear in the baseball season opening day parade for the Reds in downtown Cincinnati.
Asked how they would suspend their grief and take part in the parade, Keith Maupin said, "Our mission continues." They raise funds for the Yellow Ribbon center and for scholarships for children of veterans.
The Maupins were told by an Army official on Friday to expect an update on their son over the weekend, Keith Maupin said. The Army broke the news about their son's remains at a somber meeting.
"When you look out there in the parking lot and see a three-star general get out of a car, you know it ain't good news," Keith Maupin said.
Matt Maupin graduated from Glen Este High School, just east of Cincinnati, in 2001 and attended the University of Cincinnati for a year before joining the Army Reserves.
Dan Simmons, the athletic director at Glen Este, remembered him as a quiet but hardworking backup player on the school's football team.
"Matt was a selfless kid on the football field," Simmons said. "He did whatever the coaches told him. He wasn't a starter, but he made the other kids play harder."
A month after his capture, Maupin was promoted to the rank of specialist. In April 2005, he was promoted to sergeant.