Keith and Carolyn Maupin
David Kohl  /  AP file
Keith and Carolyn Maupin, parents of Army Reserve Spc. Keith "Matt'' Maupin, stand in front of Carolyn's home on Dec. 2 in Batavia, Ohio.
By Anchor
NBC News
updated 2/25/2005 8:26:59 PM ET 2005-02-26T01:26:59

The yellow ribbons in this small Cincinnati suburb look like those hung in hundreds of U.S. cities, mourning the loss of hometown soldiers. But Batavia's are different.            

They're memorials to Spc. Matt Maupin, a soldier with the Army Reserve's 724th Transportation Company and the only soldier still unaccounted for in the war in Iraq. Of the 10,000 soldiers wounded and the 1,500 killed, his fate is the only one still unknown.           

Maupin's unit of roughly 160 soldiers returned home this week, landing at a cold and blustery airfield in Wisconsin. Soldiers met teary-eyed families and celebrated with a dinner Friday night — grateful to be home, but remembering the colleague they left behind.

"We left a part of us over there," said Liz Marie Duarte, a soldier from Carpentersville, Ill. "Hopefully we'll get it back soon."           

Meanwhile, Maupin's parents, Carolyn and Keith, face a challenge unlike that of any military family in the United States — grieving for their son, but somehow, trying to sustain awareness of his case, knowing he may still be alive, somewhere.

"We're not going to give up," said Carolyn, a school bus dispatcher. "Until they show us something that proves one thing or the other, no, we're not."

A grainy videotape
The 21-year-old was last seen in April, when his fuel-tanker convoy was attacked just west of Baghdad in what Army officials still call the largest single attack by Iraqi insurgents.

Days later, he showed up in a tape broadcast on the Al-Jazeera network showing him held hostage.

"My name is Keith Matthew Maupin," he said, as his captors held guns nearby, demanding the United States release detainees in exchange for the soldier. Pentagon officials refused.           

In June, a second tape — dark and grainy — showed an image of a U.S. soldier being shot in the head. Insurgents claimed it was Maupin, but the Pentagon remains unconvinced. Military officials say the tape is inconclusive and did not shed any light on what happened to Maupin because the identity of the individual being shot is unclear.

Maupin is still listed as "captured" but isn't a POW because it's not known where he is being held or who his captors are. Officials say he is not being held by an entity that is a party to the Geneva Conventions. Army officials say until there is conclusive evidence, they have no intention of declaring Maupin dead.

Waiting at home
In Batavia, Maupin's presence is everywhere: On restaurant signs, on makeshift memorials on chain-link fences.       

A local radio station airs an hourly radio reminder: "JOINING YOU WITH ALL OUR PRAYERS FOR MATT MAUPIN."

At the American Legion Post 72, where Maupin was a member, a table setting still waits for him at the club room, his glass upside down in his honor.

"Matt's going to have his homecoming day here," said Ron Hartman, commander. "Matt's probably still out there workin', you know, saying, 'You guys go on back home, I'm going to stay over here and finish the job.'"

Everyone seems to remember the quiet but athletic 6-foot-2 soldier, who enlisted in the Army Reserves to save money for college.            

At the local Sam's Club, where he once stocked shelves, he's still on the payroll.

"Quiet kid, but had some of the qualities we look for," said Mitch Cohen, the store manager who hired him. "Even at a young age, he knew he wanted to go to school, which is a big thing."

Sustaining hope         
Despite their ordeal, Maupin's parents remain supporters of President Bush, like many in this largely conservative part of Ohio. They've started a volunteer center, sending care packages to soldiers, along with a picture of Maupin, asking for those still stationed in Iraq to keep an eye out for him.

A letter to soldiers reads: "Hi. These are pictures of our captured soldier Spc. Keith Matt Maupin. Please help us find him."

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