Four years after his disappearance, Maupin's death changes tone of annual vigil

Andy Kravetz

The message was simple — never forget.

Never forget the sacrifices of America’s soldiers and one in particular — Staff Sgt. Keith "Matt" Maupin, a 20-year-old Army reservist who, until last week, was missing in action since his truck convoy was attacked in Iraq.

For the past three years, a ceremony honoring Maupin has been held at Parkivew Cemetery in Peoria with the idea the Batavia, Ohio man, a member of the Bartonville-based 724th Transportation Co., would be coming home some day. On Wednesday, the message changed. Matt was coming home, just not in the way any of the more than 300 people in attendance wanted.

The hour-long ceremony had a military feel but was led by retired Sgt. Major Jeffrey Johansen of the 724th, clad in the black leathers of his motorcycle club. He told those who gathered on the brisk, chilly day that even with Maupin coming home, the annual ceremony must go on.

"We can not forget to honor Sergeant Maupin and will not allow our government or our country to diminish Matt and the others who have given the ultimate sacrifice," Johansen said.

Lt. Gov. Pat Quinn called the ceremony "hallowed ground," and echoed the words of President Lincoln, declaring that actions by soldiers like Maupin ensured the country would remain free. Quinn also invoked the words of America the Beautiful, noting that Maupin — like many in the all-volunteer military — loved his country more than his own life.

"To his parents, there are no words, not in the English language or any language, to ease the loss of a child," Quinn said.

Jill MacDougall of West Peoria brought her entire family to the ceremony. For her, Maupin represented all those who have sacrificed.

Several past and present members of the 724th were there as well. Capt. Joseph Drozd of San Antonio, Texas, served in the same platoon as Maupin. Being there Wednesday was closure for him and meant the 724th was finally "home."

Before the ceremony, Patriot Guard Riders as well as representatives of several other veterans motorcycle associations assembled at the Joint Reserve Center off Airport Road. The 100 or so motorcyclists rode a 20-mile tour around Peoria County before heading to the cemetery. Along the route, several cars pulled off to the side of the road in honor of the procession.

As the nearly mile-long caravan reached Peoria, Peoria’s firefighters stopped an engine on the Sterling Avenue overpass in honor of Matt Maupin. At the University Street Exit, several stood at attention with their helmets over their hearts.

A junior Naval ROTC unit from Woodruff High School set the somber tone with a "fallen soldier" ceremony. A rifle was placed on the ground near the podium and boots and a helmet were placed nearby, forming a "battlefield cross."

Later, members of Pekin Community High School’s junior Army ROTC program performed the POW/MIA table ceremony. Five members gathered around a small round table. They placed a cup, a plate, a Bible, a flower and a chair to symbolize the men and women who never made it home and those who remain missing.

It included plates with lemons for the bitter taste left in the mouths of the missing, salt symbolizing the family’s tears and cups placed upside-down as a reminder the veterans cannot drink from them.

Maupin was captured during what officials have called one of the largest coordinated attacks against U.S. forces. His convoy was making an emergency fuel run to the Baghdad International Airport when, just west of the city, the convoy of about two dozen civilian and military vehicles came under attack by an estimated 200 insurgents. Two soldiers, Sgt. Elmer Krause and Spc. Gregory Goodrich, died, along with six Halliburton truck drivers.

Andy Kravetz can be reached at (309) 686-3283 or