Ballpark funeral held in Ohio for long-missing soldier
By Terry Kinney
CINCINNATI — Military workers and supporters from across the country joined in memorials Sunday for a slain Army reservist who had become a poignant picture of the war in Iraq after he was captured by insurgents.
Officials estimated that about 10,000 people walked past Staff Sgt. Matt Maupin’s casket during a weekend visitation at a civic center in Clermont County, east of Cincinnati, where he grew up. Another 4,000 headed Sunday to Great American Ball Park, home of the Cincinnati Reds, for an afternoon memorial service billed as a celebration.
"It’s a celebration because his death was just a transition into a new life," The Rev. Dale Ellens, an Army chaplain, said at the service. "Today marks a day of both sadness and joy."
The crowd occupied the lower portion of the 42,000-seat stadium, behind home plate, stretching from first base to third.
Maupin’s flag-draped casket was on a platform in the area of the pitcher’s mound. The only people on the field were members of the 338th Army band and about 100 family members, military representatives and dignitaries.
"Matt Maupin was the all-American kid," said retired Lt. Gen. James Campbell, representing the Army at the service. "We are so proud of you. You have served your country with honor and distinction."
Maupin’s remains were found in Iraq last month, nearly four years after he was captured when his fuel convoy was attacked near Baghdad on April 9, 2004. He became the face of the war for many Americans after the Arab television network Al-Jazeera aired a videotape in April 2004 showing him wearing camouflage and a floppy desert hat, sitting on a floor surrounded by five masked men holding automatic rifles.
Members of his unit, the Illinois-based 724th Transportation Co., were among those on the field Sunday.
"In his service, he became a son to all of Batavia and a son to all of Ohio," said Gov. Ted Strickland. "The Maupins heard the prayers of people from across the state and across the world."
Maupin, a 20-year-old private first class when he disappeared, was listed as missing-captured until a tip from local Iraqis led to the discovery of his remains on the outskirts of Baghdad, about 12 miles from where the convoy was ambushed.
The Army had promoted Maupin three times since his capture, to keep his military career on a par with his contemporaries in case he survived. At a private ceremony with his family on Saturday, the Army awarded Maupin the Bronze Star, Purple Heart, Meritorious Service Medal, the POW Medal and other commendations.
Since his capture, the Yellow Ribbon Support Center founded by his parents, Keith and Carolyn Maupin, has sent nearly 10,000 packages of toiletries, magazines, snacks and games to soldiers. They have said that work will continue.
The governor praised the work of the Maupins, who have raised money for scholarships in the name of their son and others from the Cincinnati area who died in Iraq and Afghanistan. They also have helped provide computers to let soldiers to keep in touch with their families.
"In your pain and in your grief, may Matt’s courage give you courage now," Strickland told the Maupins. "May Matt’s strength give you strength now."