In the village of Batavia, Ohio, a community that prides itself on its clean-cut values, it's hard not to notice Keith Maupin. With a gray and scraggly beard that hangs down below his chest, the 56-year-old is known by everyone. Maupin hasn't shaved his facial hair in almost three years -- not since April 9, 2004, to be exact.
That's the day Maupin's son, Matt, a soldier serving in Iraq, was kidnapped by militants who ambushed his convoy outside Baghdad with rocket-propelled grenades and small-arms fire. Since then, a special Army task force has pursued countless leads and engaged in at least 200 missions to search for him, but Sgt. Maupin has not yet been found and remains the longest-missing U.S. soldier in the current Iraq conflict.
"It gets frustrating," says Keith Maupin, who has vowed not to shave his beard until his son returns. "It's been almost three years, and they haven't found hide nor hair of him. I don't know what they're doing, but it's not working out right."
Maupin and his ex-wife, Carolyn, are among the most active military families in the country. They've set up the Yellow Ribbon Military Support Center, which has become a full-time job for the couple. And at the Sam's Club where Matt used to work stocking shelves, his father has sent 170,000 photos of Matt around the world to keep his memory alive.
Keith Maupin is persistent. He has talked to President Bush seven times and asked numerous generals and commanders about what they're doing to find his son. When the president once asked him when he would cut his hair, Maupin responded: "When you bring Matt home."
Every three months, the Maupins head to the Pentagon to get updates from military personnel -- they're leaving in three weeks for the next visit. And they're trying to stay patient as the information has slowed to a trickle. "It has been dry for a while. They've had no major leads in a long time."
The biggest lead so far has also been the most disheartening. A week after Maupin's convoy was ambushed, a video depicting the soldier was delivered to the U.S. Embassy in Doha, Qatar, and aired on Al-Jazeera. It raised hopes that Matt Maupin was still alive, since he identified himself by his military rank, which is standard procedure for prisoners of war under the Geneva Conventions.
But two months later, another video was aired from a previously unknown group calling itself Persistent Power Against the Enemies of God and the Prophet. The tape purports to show Maupin being executed by gunshot, but the Pentagon has determined that the videotape was inconclusive and Maupin's parents don't believe it's him.
"It was so grainy that you couldn't tell whether he was black or white," says Keith Maupin. "I pray that these guys who have him show compassion."
Others believe that the tape looks legitimate, and that Maupin is most likely dead after all this time and amid the chaos of Iraq. "Looking at the video, it sure looks like Keith," says Daniel O'Shea, the former coordinator of the Pentagon's Hostage Working Group, which is dedicated to recovering soldiers and contractors who've been kidnapped in Iraq. "I don't hold out a tremendous amount of hope."
The day that Maupin was kidnapped was a mix of chaos, blood and miscommunication for his unit. The route taken by his convoy passed several abandoned buildings sheltering insurgents and was notorious for rocket attacks, improvised explosive devices and mortar fire. Just days before, a soldier in Maupin's unit, Staff Sgt. Mike Bailey, barely survived the treacherous road that was dubbed Swords.
"There were gun battles that morning -- only speed and suppressive fire got us through," Bailey tells ABCNEWS.com. On the day that Maupin's convoy was set to head out, Bailey says there were debates about which route to follow and some miscommunication about the danger of Swords.
Just minutes before the convoy began its journey, a soldier in the highway-safety office at Camp Anaconda tried warning the unit, "Sorry, looks like Sword is closed until further notice." But the soldier mistakenly sent the e-mail to himself, according to an article in Esquire magazine. The Pentagon declined to comment on the report.
"When the lieutenant gave them the safety briefing, I was sick to my stomach," says Bailey, whose convoy was supposed to follow Maupin's group about 20 minutes later. "Because I knew something would happen."
At first, insurgents hit the 26-vehicle convoy with machine-gun fire. Then, Maupin and his group were hit by mortar rounds and rocket-propelled grenades, damaging the fuel tankers and Army vehicles. The driver of Maupin's truck was killed as it caught on fire and ran off the road.
When the dust cleared, two soldiers and six civilian contractors had been killed, 10 soldiers and contractors had been wounded and nine people were unaccounted for. One of the missing drivers, Thomas Hamill, was taken hostage but escaped his captors on May 2, 2004. Another driver, Timothy Bell, remains missing and is presumed dead.
"The ambush worked according to the way they had it worked out," says Bailey. "It was textbook perfect."
Soon after Maupin was nabbed, the military set up a small task force of four or five soldiers led by an officer tasked with finding the missing soldier. The task force conducts weekly meetings about Maupin's case with the Hostage Working Group. Working on leads it gets from local Iraqis and detainees, the U.S. military has raided towns, searched fields and prisons to find him.
"No stone was unturned for Keith Maupin," says O'Shea. "You can never say never. Look at [contractor] Roy Hallums, who was in a hole in the ground for 311 days. We had nothing on him for months and the consensus was that he'd been killed. And then we brought him back alive."
O'Shea shares the concerns of some POW/MIA groups that Maupin may never be found, that the militants who nabbed Maupin -- and others who know of his whereabouts -- may have been killed in Baghdad's violent mayhem over the last two years.
But he remains convinced that there must still be traces left. "Someone in Iraq knows where Keith is buried," says O'Shea. "The way the tribal communities work over there and the way that information travels, there are more than four people who know where he is."
Of all the American soldiers and contractors who have been kidnapped in Iraq, 5 percent were rescued, 2 percent escaped, 30 percent were released, 35 percent were killed and 20 percent are still missing from April 2004 to April 2006, according to O'Shea.
Aside from Maupin, Iraqi-American soldier Ahmed Qusai al-Taayie is the only other U.S. soldier still missing. There are also several American contractors who have been kidnapped and who have not yet been recovered.
During the first Gulf War, pilot Scott Speicher's F/A-18 was shot down over Iraq and he remains missing in action. And, by some estimates, at least 2,500 U.S. soldiers who fought in the Vietnam War remain missing.
But in Batavia, where yellow ribbons and American flags are ubiquitous, the community has not given up hope for Maupin. Every day, neighbors come in to make donations for the care packages that the Maupins send to soldiers in Iraq and to offer their support to the family.
And Maupin's unit hasn't forgotten about him either. Bailey is going back to Iraq for his third tour in a few months and his mission will be looking for his friend. Sustained by memories of Maupin -- his love of the music of Three Doors Down and his physical strength ("We had a push-up contest in Kuwait and he won. Wearing his bulletproof vest and helmet, he did 100 push-ups"), Bailey plans to talk to commanders and soldiers about the search.
"I'd really like to get out there and hunt for him -- we won't rest until we bring Matt back."