An emotionally moving and unexplained ‘find’ has connected a Kyabram charity worker with the family of a murdered American serviceman.
And the discovery took place almost 14 years ago to the day that Staff Sergeant Keith ‘Matt’ Maupin Jr was ambushed and captured by Iraqi insurgents.
Every American convoy that attempted to drive in and out of Baghdad airport on Good Friday of 2004 was attacked, in what would later be referred to as the worst ambush of the war.
Matt was only 20.
Through four long years Matt’s family and friends held out a desperate hope he would eventually be released and come home.
Until March 30, 2008, when a United States Army general was given the task of informing Matt’s father Keith his son’s remains had been discovered. He had been held for some time before being brutally murdered.
In March 2018 Mark Nankivell was sorting through the jewellery boxes for the local Teen Challenge Thrift Shop. He said at times “it’s not a great job” because of things he uncovers but he does it ‘‘just because I know what they (Teen Challenge) do down there, and I think it’s great, so I give them a bit of a hand’’.
Mr Nankivell said he often came across items that gave him ‘‘a bit of a weird feeling’’. But a silver bracelet he recently found sparked a global search in a bid to return it to its rightful owners.
‘‘It just sort of felt like, I guess, a pretty weird-looking bracelet to be heading to the op shop,’’ Mr Nankivell said.
‘‘So I had a good look at it and I saw the name on it, it was all bent up and a bit out of shape,’’ he said.
The bracelet was inscribed Keith ‘Matt’ Maupin, with the date April 9, 2004, also etched into the silver.
‘‘As soon as I read the bracelet, I was intrigued, so I did a bit of research,’’ Mr Nankivell said.
Matt may be an unknown in Australia but his tragic story is well known throughout the United States, and especially in his home state of Ohio.
News of his capture, along with Sgt Elmer Krause, 40, made national headlines after his captors released a video of him surrounded by masked men.
So when Mr Nankivell googled Matt’s name and started reading the full story, he was soon reduced to tears.
‘‘I couldn’t believe what I read, the story really hit me hard,’’ he said.
‘‘I was sobbing tears of frustration that this brave young man had his life stolen from him for simply doing his job,’’ he said.
‘‘I knew I needed to send this piece home.
‘‘To read about what they (Iraqi insurgents) did to him just for doing his job and serving his country.
‘‘I was also thinking, what on earth is this doing in Kyabram and not with his family — and how did it get here?’’
He said the pain of Matt’s story and the need to return the bracelet to his family, ‘‘sort of kicked me into gear’’.
Mr Nankivell said he realised the bracelet was a POW (prisoner of war) bracelet, worn in hope by the family and friends of missing or captured soldiers.
While reading through Matt’s story on the internet, Mr Nankivell came across the Keith ‘Matt’ Maupin Baseball Tournament.
He kept digging because he saw this annual baseball competition as his chance to get the bracelet home. So he cleaned it up and set about his mission.
‘‘His father, Keith Maupin, pitches the first ball of the game and online I saw a photo of his dad in that game so I searched Facebook for Keith Maupin and just scrolled through trying to match the faces with each other.
‘‘Eventually I came across the bloke who I thought was the right man, so I messaged him, not fully knowing if it was going to be him or not.
‘‘That research was an hour or two out of my day compared to this man giving up his life fighting for his country, it was the least I could do.’’
Mr Nankivell, still unsure if he was messaging the correct Keith Maupin, made contact, and accompanied the message with a photo of the bracelet.
After waiting a few days for a reply, Mr Nankivell couldn’t believe it — he had the right man.
‘‘Thank you for taking the time to learn about Matt, he was a good kid destined to do good things,’’ Keith Sr said, asking if Mr Nankivell could send the bracelet to him in Cincinnati.
But Keith Sr could not throw any light on how the bracelet had found its way to a Kyabram op shop.
The bracelet has now been returned to Matt's family in his home state of Ohio.
‘‘My reward is I have made someone happy. I stumbled across something that will mean a lot to a family for a long time,’’ Mr Nankivell said.