Idaho Town That Waited 5 Years For Bergdahl Now Must Defend Its Support

Jun 4, 2014

Almost immediately after the jubilant response to Sgt. Bowe Bergdahl’s release from the Taliban on Saturday, the story took a very different turn. First, there was criticism of the Obama administration exchanging five Taliban detainees for Bergdahl. Then, some soldiers from his former unit started speaking out against the freed POW. Josh Korder told CNN earlier this week that he believes men lost their lives searching for him.

Jane Drussel's store, Jane's Artifacts, in downtown Hailey, Idaho.
Credit Jessica Robinson / Northwest News Network

Korder: “I mean at best he's a deserter, at worst he's a traitor.”

As Jessica Robinson of the Northwest News Network reports, Bergdahl's hometown in Idaho was unprepared for the public backlash.

Jane Drussel owns an art supply store in downtown Hailey, Idaho. For the last five years, she made sure the yellow ribbons on all the trees on Main Street got replaced once they started to fade. Drussel says when the news of Bergdahl's release first came, for awhile, it was everything she had imagined.

Drussel: “It was just such a joyful, happy moment. And then after Sunday, there seemed to be a turn.”

That turn came in the form of angry phone calls and emails. Facebook posts, tweets. People from across the country were incensed that the town would be celebrating Bergdahl’s return.

Right before I arrived for the interview with Drussel, her store had received its eleventh angry call of the day. It wasn't yet noon.

As the president of the local chamber of commerce, Drussel is helping with the welcome home celebration for Bergdahl at the end of the month.

Drussel: “I actually have some concerns about that now.

Jessica: “Like safety concerns?”

Drussel: “I have safety concerns. I do. I just never have seen a turn of events happen so fast where you have such nasty remarks being made. I really am shocked.”

People have called Bergdahl a traitor and a criminal who never should have been rescued – those are the more PG comments. Some have vowed to come to Hailey to demonstrate at the event. The mayor of Hailey has responded with a statement asking people to withhold judgment until all the facts of the case are known.

This was not the moment of triumph the town of 8,000 had been expecting. On Sunday, Bergdahl’s father Bob thanked the community for their support over five long years.

Bergdahl: “The people in Hailey, the Wood River Valley, this little town in Idaho that was suddenly on the map.”

Hailey sits amid the foothills that grow into Idaho's Sawtooth Mountains. Bob and Jani Bergdahl moved into one of the canyons outside of town. They were off the grid for a time, and homeschooled their kids Sky and Bowe. Hiking trails on the sagebrush covered hills were just minutes away.

Logullo: “You know you'd see him out here on the trails, smiling, head held high, smiling, walking, doing his thing.”

That’s Mark Logullo. We’re in Quigley Canyon, three miles from town. Logullo’s son Sean was friends with Bowe when they were teenagers.

Logullo: “He was just a really good kid. His parents raised a really nice boy.”

Some former members of Bergdahl's platoon have said Bergdahl mused about walking off into the similarly rugged hills of southeast Afghanistan. But Logullo doesn't buy it.

Logullo: “No, I don't think so. Basically, this is a witch hunt. Old school, 'you're guilty. Everyone says you are so you must be.' And only he knows what really happened.”

Jessica: “If it turns out that back in June of 2009 he did walk off, would that change your perception?”

Logullo: “No, no. I just think we need to let those that are in charge deal with it and in the meantime accept someone home that's been lost for a while.”

The military does have an ongoing investigation. Bergdahl is still undergoing medical treatment in a military hospital. But an Army spokesman says interviews with him about what happened will eventually be apart of their inquiry.

Minna Casser is a neighbor of the Bergdahls. I met her in downtown Hailey.

Casser: “He's one of our own here. We're very happy that he's coming home.”

She says if Bowe Bergdahl did leave the base, there's another important question.

Casser: “Why was he that angry? And I don't think that has surfaced yet at all. And I think that's something we're going to have to wait and hear from him or from someone about what really caused him to do that.”

Casser's daughter and Bergdahl used to be in the same fencing club. She says, whatever happened, it was complicated.

Casser: “I don't think we should have to choose between him being a 'hero' and committing treason. I think there's some middle ground there. And we have to understand what really went on.”

It’s unclear how long that will take. What is clear to some is that no soldier should be left behind on the battlefield.

Kramer: “He was listed by the Department of Defense as a POW and that’s all that matters to us.”

That’s Ralph Kramer. He’s president of the Boise Valley POW/MIA Corporation and served in the Air Force for two decades.

Kramer: “We've been supporting Bob and Jani since the beginning as part of our mission. The POW mission is to make people aware and keep them aware. Our motto is 'never forget.'

Kramer says every week the group has dedicated a couples of minutes to Bergdahl and kept a running tally of how many days he was missing.

Kramer says he’ll be at the welcome home celebration for Bergdahl at the end of June. As for the controversy surrounding Bergdahl’s capture, Kramer says: no comment.

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