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The Maupins' spirits have been buoyed by visits and calls from President George W. Bush and Vice President Dick Cheney. But their heartache is growing. They are in a special kind of pain because of the special kind of war their son is fighting. He is not "missing in action"; rather, because a group claims to have seized him, he is considered "captured." Yet he is not a "prisoner of war" because no one at the Pentagon has the faintest idea what that group--the "Persistent Power Against the Enemies of God and the Prophet"--is. Consequently, there can be no talk of the Geneva convention with his captors or of visits from the Red Cross to make sure he is being well treated or is even alive. He has simply been swallowed by some element of the hydra-headed insurgency--a missing man in the hands of a ghostly enemy.
Occasionally, the constant flow of Iraqi prisoners through U.S.-run prisons in Iraq yields leads about Maupin's whereabouts. According to U.S. military officers in Iraq, an Iraqi detainee recently led U.S. forces to the shallow grave of William Bradley, a civilian killed in the assault on Maupin's convoy. The detainee also fingered a gang in his village of Abu Ghraib, west of Baghdad, as the men involved in the attack in which Maupin went missing. In the first week of January, U.S. and Iraqi special forces raided the village, seized eight suspects--one of whom led to 20 more--and found U.S. uniforms, weapons and a water cooler. If evidence gathered in the raid or interrogations of the suspects has shed light on Maupin's fate, the U.S. military is not yet prepared to say so.
Matt Maupin, born while Ronald Reagan was president, is partial to Superman, Star Wars and teriyaki beef jerky. He grew up in a trim ranch house with a basketball hoop next to the driveway and his prized red 1998 Mustang in the garage. "You can pick out most of the guys who go into the military because they walk with a certain attitude," says Nick Ayers, who played with Maupin on their high school football team, the Trojans. "But Matt was really laid-back." That quietness was infused with a drive that pushed him onto the team, as a second-string receiver and defensive back, as well as the honor roll. "He was a hardworking kid who didn't get to play as much as he wanted to, but he didn't let that deter him," says coach Zak Taylor. "We'd finish about 3:45 every day, and he'd always stay late," working out in the weight room. Younger brother Micah, 19, says Matt has always preferred action to words. "Matt works hard and does the best he can. A lot of people just yell, yell, yell, but Matt isn't like that. It's more of a lead-by-example thing with him." Despite his square-jawed handsomeness and his pony car, friends say, Matt was shy with girls. A rare dinner date would be at the Outback Steakhouse.