Commentary: Many Honor Values in Final Salute
May 9, 2008
BATAVIA, Ohio (Army News Service, May 9, 2008) -- We all became familiar with the Matt Maupin saga over the last four years. That saga came to a close on a sunny April afternoon as a horse-drawn caisson carried the sergeant's body to his final post.
The finding of Staff Sgt. Maupin's remains set many wheels in motion to honor this fallen Soldier. The communities surrounding his hometown of Batavia, Ohio, a Cincinnati suburb, supported the Maupin family exceptionally well over their four-year ordeal and planned what would become one of the largest celebrations of life any Soldier received.
I traveled into Union Township, Ohio, to help with the expected media onslaught wanting to capture the last moments of Ohio's favorite son.
The media blitz was just a small part of the festivities, however. Thousands of area residents joined local and national media in honoring Maupin and all who wear the uniform. For a 48-hour period, that was the sole mission of this tri-state community.
During the public viewing, I was moved many times as entire police troops, scouting troops and veterans organizations filed by their hometown hero. One baseball team even showed up in uniform. They were covered in dirt and sweat from their recent game but were determined to show their united support to a Soldier who, only seven years ago, was a local high school athlete.
I was choked up as the Patriot Guard Riders filed in one by one to salute. They methodically went down their leather ranks, each pausing to salute at Maupin's flag-draped casket. If it were not for their long hair and graying beards, they too could have passed for soldiers of today. I lost count after 50 riders, but the line of leather stretched out the door.
Because so many groups came by the busloads, the wait to pay homage to the fallen staff sergeant was often two hours. The township used school buses to shuttle the populace from a nearby shopping mall because there was not enough parking for the hordes. At 1 a.m., the community's second-shift workers formed one of the largest lines of the day, wrapping around the building.
After these faithful strangers saluted Maupin's casket, they took more time out of their schedule to stop me and countless other soldiers, sailors, airmen and Marines who were there to thank us for our sacrifices while serving our country.
Many dignitaries turned out as well, including Lt. Gen. Jack Stultz, chief of the Army Reserve. They too wanted to honor Maupin. But for one spring weekend, rank, title and position held no merit. It was irrelevant, as we all had the same charge: to praise a young American who as a man believed in the Army values and as a Soldier enforced them.
My proudest and saddest moment for the day came when I was able to speak briefly with Carolyn Maupin, Matt's mother.
My mother, a military mom for 21 years now, wanted me to personally thank Carolyn for her poise while dealing with her missing son. She said she felt strengthened by Carolyn's projected faith in media reports and representing all military mothers with the utmost dignity in the face of tragedy. Being 15 years senior to Matt, my mother was proud that other moms were still teaching their children the values needed to be an upstanding member of society.
With all that happened this spring weekend, Carolyn will not remember my face from the thousands of others, but I will remember that day vividly as it was equally prideful and poignant.
Although I never knew Matt Maupin personally, I do know this. It could have easily been you or me in the convoy that captured him.
In the end, we are all the same, all Soldiers; all extinguishable; and all with loving Families.
Call your mother or father and thank them for instilling in you the values needed to stand next to the likes of Staff Sgt. Maupin and call yourself an American soldier.
(Maj. William D. Ritter serves with Army Reserve Medical Command Public Affairs.)