Former POW Bergdahl An Uneasy Subject In His Idaho Hometown
Sgt. Bowe Bergdahl, the U.S. soldier held for nearly five years as a prisoner of the Taliban, is facing charges of desertion and misbehavior before the enemy.
Bergdahl left his post in 2009. He was released last May in a controversial prisoner swap. One year ago, if you stood on Main Street in Hailey, you could have looked up and down this street and seen yellow ribbons on every tree and lamp post in honor of Bowe Bergdahl.
But things have changed since last May and now many long time supporters say they just don't want to comment and attract more attention to the town.
For many years, it was almost the opposite. People in this town of about 8,000 in south-central Idaho made it their mission to spread the word about the POW. They organized letter-writing drives to the president and planted trees in the city park for each year Bergdahl had been held captive. There was an annual rally that brought hundreds of veterans on motorcycles from across the West.
Then in May, Bergdahl was released. The Obama administration traded him for five prisoners at Guantanamo Bay, though without consulting Congress.
On top of that, Bergdahl’s release was accompanied by details about the strange circumstances of his capture. Former members of his unit said he had deserted and walked off into the Afghan mountains.
Bergdahl's release was initially a moment of celebration in Hailey. But within days, the town had canceled an event to honor Bergdahl. Organizers said they received threats and worried the celebration would attract protesters.
This week, the Army formally issued its charges against Bergdahl.
Col. Daniel J.W. King told reporters Bergdahl had been charged with desertion, which has a maximum penalty of five years imprisonment. He's also charged with "misbehavior before the enemy by endangering the safety of a command, unit or place."
King said that charge has a much higher punishment: “Possible confinement for life.”
After that announcement, the mayor of Hailey issued a statement. It said the town would take no position on the Army’s case. The town of Hailey was quiet again.
‘A lot of area between complete black and complete white’
A dirt road just outside of Hailey will take you through the canyon where Bergdahl grew up. Bergdahl's parents have remained silent since his release. There's a chain around their front gate and no answer on their phone.
Minna Casser lives just down the road from the Bergdahls. She remembers Bowe as the neighbor boy who taught her daughter fencing in the garage.
It was around noon on Wednesday when Casser got a text about the charges.
“I was actually at lunch with some friends and we were all -- everyone at this point I think wasn't too surprised by something finally coming out,” she said. “You know, people have been waiting to find out what's going to happen.”
Casser said they always knew Bergdahl's case would be complicated. And now that the Army is calling it desertion, some people in Hailey agree he should be court martialed.
“I know that there's some people that are pretty upset and angry,” she said. “But a lot of people, because he's from our town and he's a young man and people make bad decisions and people have a lot of challenges in life … and, there's a lot of area between complete black and complete white.”
Casser said she's happy Bergdahl's return has been a relief for his parents. Desertion charges are at least an improvement to where he was a year ago.