LONE U.S. SOLDIER REMAINS MISSING
By Joyce Howard Price
THE WASHINGTON TIMES
Sunday will mark the second anniversary of the capture near Baghdad of Army Reserve Sgt. Keith Matthew "Matt" Maupin of Batavia, Ohio, the only U.S. soldier not accounted for in the three years of Operation Iraqi Freedom.
While more than 2,300 U.S. service members have been killed in Iraq since the March 2003 invasion and more than 17,000 have been wounded, Sgt. Maupin is the only one officially listed as "missing/captured" and his whereabouts unknown.
The sergeant's parents, Keith and Carolyn Maupin, think their son is still alive, even though the Arabic-language TV network Al Jazeera, reported June 28, 2004, that he had been executed. The Pentagon says it does not know whether Sgt. Maupin is dead or alive, calling a dark and grainy video it obtained that purports to show the sergeant being shot in the back of the head "inconclusive." Military officials say they don't know if the shooting victim was Sgt. Maupin, since the man in the tape is blindfolded and his face is not shown. Some Army officers have suggested that the gunmen in the video shot a dummy.
"We don't want them to quit looking for Matt. He hasn't been found yet, so they are not doing all they can do. I know if they did more, they'd find him," Mr. Maupin said in a telephone interview.
He added he is grateful for the calls and e-mails he receives once each week from an Army casualty assistance officer. The message is always the same, Mr. Maupin said: "The status of Matt is unchanged, and he's still listed as captured." But he said the officials do their best to answer all his questions.
"The Maupins have been very cooperative and very patient," said Shari Lawrence, deputy public affairs officer for the U.S. Army Human Resources Command. "Matt represents the soldiers and families of all those who have not come home. We make a promise we will do everything to find them, and we're constantly on the lookout" for Sgt. Maupin.
Mr. Maupin said he was encouraged by the release Thursday of Jill Carroll, a freelance reporter for the Christian Science Monitor, who was kidnapped in Iraq nearly four months earlier. He said he hopes that positive development leads to more intense efforts to find his son.
Roger Hall, a Silver Spring man who has been involved in prisoner of war issues since 1993 and who keeps in touch with the Maupin family, shares that hope. He worries that the press and many Americans seem to have forgotten the plight of Sgt. Maupin, and that frightens him, since many are saying the unrelenting attention that focused on Miss Carroll may have saved her life and led to her release.
Mr. Hall says he would also like to locate any persons or groups that may have been involved in negotiations for Miss Carroll's release to see if they might help find Sgt. Maupin.
Mr. Maupin is active in a Cincinnati-based organization called the Yellow Ribbon Support Center that's all about remembering his missing son and other heroes of Operation Iraqi Freedom from the Cincinnati area. On Sunday, the group will hold a fundraiser called "Let Us Never Forget," with a goal to raise $100,000 in scholarships to honor local soldiers.
Mr. Maupin says he has examined still images the Army made from the shooting tape that aired on Al Jazeera and could not determine whether the man's jaw he saw on the clearest picture was his son's. "You can't tell anything from that video. The Army tried to enhance it for three months, but did not succeed," so the images also are not distinct, he said.
Sgt. Maupin was a 20-year-old private first class in the Army Reserve's 724th Transportation Company when a fuel truck convoy that his company was guarding was ambushed on April 9, 2004, by Iraqi insurgents near the Baghdad airport.
Five drivers were killed in the attack. Sgt. Maupin, who was riding shotgun on one of the trucks, was taken captive, along with two other Americans in the convoy. Then-Pvt. Maupin became a sergeant with two promotions that have occurred in absentia since his kidnapping.
On April 16, Sgt. Maupin and the two other U.S. hostages appeared in a video on Al Jazeera and identified themselves. Seven days later, Sgt. Elmer Krause, 40, of Greensboro, N.C., was found slain. Hostage Thomas Hamill, a civilian contractor from Macon, Miss., escaped from his captors May 2 and was recovered by U.S. forces near Tikrit.
Miss Lawrence of the Army's Human Resources Command said that agency has one year and a day after an incident like the convoy ambush to review a missing soldier's file to determine whether to change his classification. Sgt. Maupin, she said, "has never come out of the status of 'missing/captured,' " since no body has been found and no other "hard evidence" warrants a change.
"I know they are looking for Matt," said his father. He said he saw a report that British military personnel, as well as investigators from the Army and Marines, were looking for his son's possible burial site somewhere in the Iraqi desert about a week ago. They were following up a tip, but didn't find a grave, Mr. Maupin said.
"We can't make them find Matt. But I'm confident that when my son's job is done, he'll be home," he said.
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WE HAVE NOT FORGOTTEN YOU, MATT. WE PRAY FOR YOUR SAFE RETURN. I cannot begin to imagine the heartache the Maupin family endures. Our prayers are with them.