Two Years On, Idaho Town Hopes For Local Captive's Homecoming

Jun 30, 2011

HAILEY, Idaho - It's been two years since since the Taliban captured an American soldier who grew up in Hailey, Idaho. Bowe Bergdahl remains the only U.S. soldier in Taliban captivity. Getting him back will be a delicate matter for international peace negotiators. In the meantime Bergdahl's hometown will quietly mark the anniversary of his imprisonment on Thursday .

The children running through bark chips at the Little River Preschool were just toddlers when the Taliban captured Bowe Bergdahl.

This spring the kids made a big yellow banner that says "Bring Bowe Home." Muriel Gough is the art teacher at the school. She knew Bowe when he was around their age.

"He was very quiet, very very shy, quiet little guy," Gough said. "He would sit and paint his little projects and you would hardly know he was there!"

Since Bowe's capture, the Bergdahls themselves have avoided talking about their son publicly. Hailey has tried to protect the family's privacy. Gough says in the Internet age, silence is a precaution.

"You know I've always been hesitant to say too much because I'm not sure how much they want out there. You know which I can fully understand." She added, "I think that's one of the reasons they've stayed close and kept to themselves sort of."

Hailey has about 8,000 people. Mountains flank this one-time mining town. These days it's usually a stop-over on the way to swanky Sun Valley, about 20 minutes up the highway.

"Sun Valley gets the celebrities and usually that's where the media end up, but this time it was here," said Hailey mayor Rick Davis.

He says since Bergdahl's capture this tucked-away town has felt far less isolated.

"Under the surface I think everybody now realizes that it can happen here and now we know we're not immune to what is happening in the world," he said.

Turmoil in the Middle East now puts the town on edge. Videos released by the Taliban show a ragged Bergdahl talking about how much he misses his home.

In May, just a week after SEAL Team Six killed Osama bin Laden in Pakistan, Bergdahl's father released his own message on video. Bob Bergdahl speaks at times in Pashto and Arabic. He asks Pakistan's military for help.

And he does something he acknowledges will seem strange to some people: Bob Bergdahl thanks members of the Taliban for caring for his son for two years.

"Mullah Sangin, the Haqqanis, and other who have played a role in sheltering the American prisoner. We know our son is a prisoner and at the same time a guest in your home."

Bob Bergdahl adds this, referring to Taliban prisoners held by the U.S.:

"No family in the United States understands the detainee issue like ours."

Bowe Bergdahl, as the only U.S. prisoner in Afghanistan, is important to the Taliban not only as propaganda, but as a bargaining chip. That's according to Conrad Crane, director of the U.S. Army Military History Institute in Carlisle, Penn.

Preliminary peace talks with the Taliban are underway, and Crane says the Taliban will be looking to make a trade.

"And it won't be a one-for-one trade they're going for either," Crane said. "They'll say, 'We'll give you Bergdahl and we want these important Taliban leaders you've got in a prison somewhere else.' So that the challenge for the negotiators is: how much do we give up to get him back."

Crane says it's telling that the U.S. doesn't even use the term POW for detainees at Guantanamo Bay: It's a different kind of war.

Zaney's Cafe in Hailey is decked in yellow ribbons and pictures of Bergdahl. He once worked here as a barista. Zaney's is now the unofficial headquarters for all things Bergdahl.

Col. Tim Marsano with the Idaho National Guard sits at a small table. Throughout the ordeal, Marsano has been the spokesman for the Bergdahl family. Through constant contact with the family, he's gotten to know Bowe pretty well.

"Very very intellectually curious, active young man," Marsano described. "He became an expert marksman, paragliding, motorcycling ... I'm kind of fascinated by him and I'm looking forward to meeting him."

Marsano is helping the family craft a statement for the second anniversary. The military has promoted Bergdahl twice while he's been in Taliban captivity. He's now a sergeant.

Col. Marsano says he has no doubt that Bergdahl will someday come home.

"The military has not forgotten for even one minute Bowe Bergdahl," he said. "And we never will."

And neither will the people of Hailey, Idaho.

Copyright 2011 Northwest News Network

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