CINCINNATI, April 27, 2008 -- Thousands of mourners went to the Great American Ballpark today and paid their final respects to Staff Sgt. Matt Maupin, a soldier whose family captured the nation's heart as they waited for news of their son's whereabouts.
At the service, military officials honored both the fallen Army reservist and his family.
"He lived the army values in word and deed," Army Lt. Gen. James Campbell said at the ceremony. "He took his training seriously and he watched out for his fellow soldiers. He was the type soldier that every leader wanted in his or her outfit."
Maupin's Army Reserve recruiter said all Americans should be grateful to the soldier's family.
"There are people who say God never gives you more than you can handle," Billy Ray Durham said. "I would say to them, 'You have not given your son or daughter in the service of your country.' The grief will never stop, even when the pain they feel dulls in time. The country owes a debt of gratitude to families like the Maupins whose sons and daughters have made that ultimate sacrifice."
Maupin's remains were found in Iraq last month, after he'd been missing for four years since the 20-year-old was kidnapped west of Baghdad on April 9, 2004. Yet, as the days turned to weeks, months and, finally, years, Maupin's family never doubted their boy would somehow come home — though they had prayed for a different outcome than the one they received.
"We always told them he's going to walk off that plane, or carry him off that plane. Either way we're not going to leave him in Iraq," said Maupin's father Keith, who had refused to shave his beard until his son came home, and even now, he cannot bring himself to do it.
"We still have three soldiers missing and 140,000 that need our help. As Americans, we need to let them know there's people back here that care for them, and that's what we're going to do," Keith said.
Maupin's remains arrived from Dover Air force base, Saturday, and thousands came to say goodbye to the young Ohio soldier.
Initially, Maupin's funeral was supposed to be held in a smaller venue, but with the thousands who wanted to attend, it was moved to the home of the Cincinnati Reds, which can seat 40,000 people.
While this isn't how his friends and family wanted Maupin to come home, his parents said having his remains does bring them closure.
"It hurts. It hurts. After you go through four years — almost four years of hope, and then this is what happens," said Maupin's mother Carolyn.
Maupin enlisted following the Sept. 11 attacks, despite the objections of his parents. At the time of his capture, Maupin was part of the Baronville, Ill.-based 724th Transportation Company.
"He was a good soldier. He was young, athletic, had a lot going for him — kind of a prankster," said Maupin's commander in Iraq Maj. Jeffrey Smith.
During his final mission, the soldier's fuel convoy was captured and a week later, an Arab television station aired his hostage video. After two months passed, another clue surfaced when a tape purported to show his execution.
Now, the boy who grew up in suburban Batavia, Ohio, always will be remembered as a hero.