News that missing American soldier Sgt. Keith Matthew Maupin of Ohio was confirmed as dead in Iraq hit a local woman especially hard.
“I just can’t believe it,” said Carol Pingelski Hotaling, a retiree known as “The Yellow Ribbon Lady.”
Recognized for her efforts to collect care packages and otherwise support troops serving overseas, she is close to the parents of Maupin, who had been listed as missing or captured since an ambush in April 2004.
At one time, he was the only American soldier listed as missing in the current Iraq conflict.
For the past four years, Hotaling has focused many of her efforts on raising public awareness of Maupin’s plight, and she’s now making ribbons to send to his funeral.
Her apartment in the Ballston Pines senior complex is full of pictures of the boyishly handsome Army reservist, and she’s responsible for the yellow ribbons on trees outside the apartments.
The Department of Defense announced Monday that DNA testing has confirmed that human remains found in Iraq are Maupin’s. The family was informed over the weekend.
Hotaling was devastated when Maupin’s father, Keith, called her Sunday afternoon from his home in Batavia, Ohio, outside Cincinnati.
“Matt’s mom and I have believed right from day one that he was alive,” Hotaling said Monday.
She spent Monday and planned to spend today at her apartment, sewing cloth ribbons that she hopes to get shipped to Ohio for whenever the remains are returned.
“I’m going to make a couple of hundred,” she said. “I want to send a whole truckload. They’re piled all around me.”
Mail N More in Burnt Hills has agreed to pack the ribbons, though as of late Monday Hotaling was still looking for help with shipping costs. People interested in donating can contact Mail N More.
Yellow ribbons have long been associated with waiting for missing loved ones, and using them to remember soldiers and hostages gained wide popularity after the Tony Orlando and Dawn hit song, “Tie A Yellow Ribbon Round the Ole Oak Tree,” in the early 1970s.
In support of the cause, Hotaling was able to get a banner promoting Maupin’s missing status put up at the Albany-Saratoga Speedway in 2006. She also visited the family in Ohio for six weeks that year, and has participated in events every year on the anniversary of his capture.
She won’t attend the funeral, though, because of mobility problems.
Maupin’s parents, like Hotaling, are deeply involved in collecting personal care items for the troops. They also started a nationwide scholarship fund, for which Hotaling has selected the New York state winner. They have a Web site, www.yellowribbonsupportcenter.com.
Matt Maupin was a 20-year-old private first class when he was captured after his fuel convoy was ambushed west of Baghdad. Although his captors shortly afterward claimed to have killed him, the military couldn’t confirm that. His parents publicly pressed for his status to be kept open. The military promoted him to sergeant while he was missing.
There are now three other soldiers listed as missing in Iraq, but from 2004 to 2006, Maupin was the only one.
Hotaling said she plans to press forward with previously scheduled activities on New York State Yellow Ribbon Day next week. It is April 9, the anniversary of Maupin’s capture.
An event will be held at 10:30 a.m. that day at the Saratoga-Wilton Elks Lodge in Wilton, with those attending asked to bring items such as toiletries, batteries or snack foods for the troops.
The bad news won’t change those plans, Hotaling said.
“Everything is going to be the same,” she said. “I’ve got pictures of Matt, and I’m still going to give them out to raise awareness.”
Hotaling also has a 17-year relationship with the 42nd Infantry Division National Guard unit, based in Troy. Members have had deployments to Iraq and Afghanistan.
Hotaling has been active since the Gulf War in 1991, whenever American soldiers were deployed in combat.
“The soldiers and families need our support,” she said. “I’m not just a volunteer. It’s my life.”
Hotaling lived in Halfmoon for many years and is the mother of Halfmoon Town Councilman Paul Hotaling.
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Categories: Schenectady County