Sunday, July 23, 2006

A Garden for Sgt. Matt Maupin

Saturday, July 8, 2006 was an absolutely gorgeous day. The sun was shining, it wasn't too hot - we couldn't have asked for a better day for the dedication of Matt Maupin's garden at Glen Este High School. Matt's birthday was last week and if, as we hope and pray, he is still alive, he turned 23. Matt attended Glen Este Middle School and High School here in Clermont County, Cincinnati and when he graduated in 2002 I, as PTO president at the middle school, had the honor of presenting Matt with a scholarship. I remember him saying he was going to use the money for college. As the mother of two college kids, I know how hard it can be to pay for college.

Well, Matt did use the scholarship money to pay for a year of college at University of Cincinnati - Clermont County. He worked at Sam's Club to help pay his way, but after a year I guess he decided it would be easier to join the service and put himself through college that way. At least that was his plan. He hadn't been in the service long when he was shipped out to Iraq. And he hadn't been in Iraq long at all when he was in a convoy that was ambushed on April 9, 2004. There were many casualties and some survivors were taken hostage, including Matt. A few of the hostages were killed. One of the civilian hostages managed to escape months later. Matt was shown on a video, surrounded by armed captors. About two months later there was a second video, purporting to show his execution. That video was grainy and the person being shot had his back to the camera. No body was ever found, and the Pentagon said the person in the video was too small to be Matt, a tall former football player.

Since then, there have been no further videos of Matt. There has been no word of Matt, no remains ever found, no hint of what has happened to him. If he was indeed executed, what happened to his remains? All of us in his hometown hope and pray that he is still being held somewhere, that he is still alive and will come home soon. Carolyn Maupin, his mom, and Keith Maupin, his dad, have founded the Yellow Ribbon Support Group here, sending packages to our troops on a regular basis. Sam's Club has donated tens of thousands of copies of pictures of Matt in uniform, and pictures of him go out in every shipment, asking the troops in Iraq to keep their eyes open for any trace of Matt. We know the troops all know about Matt, the only member of the U.S. armed forces still missing in Iraq.

To ensure that he is not forgotten at home, we created a garden for Matt in front of the pond and next to the flagpole at Glen Este High School. It was a community effort, with many landscapers donating labor and materials, with volunteers helping to install the plants, and a grant to purchase special benches designed like the American flag. At the garden dedication, a Vietnam vet, aided by a veteran of the Iraq war and by Keith Maupin, performed a flag raising ceremony. The two flags -- an American flag and a POW-MIA flag -- had just been given to the Maupins after they had both been flown over Fallujah in Matt's honor. The Union Township Police Department color guard opened the ceremony, and a recent Glen Este grad played a trumpet solo of the national anthem during the flag raising. Afterwards Carolyn and Keith Maupin cut the yellow ribbon and declared the garden open. Local businesses donated food for a celebration at the American Legion hall after the ceremony.

It was a very moving event. As the garden designer and coordinator, I was very choked up to see all the people in the community who came to the dedication ceremony to show the Maupins that Matt has not been forgotten. It took two years to pull it all together and we would still like to raise funds for a paver "patio" in front of the garden, but the main garden is now open to the public. Thanks to everyone who helped make this garden possible.