The Free Press, Mankato, MN

State, national news

June 22, 2013

Taliban offer adds urgency to Idaho POW rally

HAILEY, Idaho — The tearful mother of the only known U.S. prisoner of war said Saturday she's feeling "very optimistic" about his eventual release after his Taliban captors offered last week to exchange him for prisoners at Guantanamo Bay.

U.S. Army Sgt. Bowe Bergdahl's mother, Jani Bergdahl, spoke to about 2,000 people gathered in Hailey, his hometown, in a city park where he played as a toddler and little boy.

About 400 in the crowd arrived astride motorcycles, adorned in leather and patches commemorating America's military missing in action.

Bowe Bergdahl, 27, was taken prisoner in Afghanistan on June 30, 2009. First Jani Bergdahl, then his father, Bob Bergdahl, who accompanied the motorcycle procession on his son's 1978 dirt bike, spoke for a combined 15 minutes about rejuvenated hopes that their son's now-four-year ordeal will soon come to a joyful close.

"We are feeling very optimistic this week," his mother, before addressing her son directly. "Bowe, we love you, we support you, and are eagerly awaiting your return home. I love you my son, as I have, from the first moment I heard of you, the never-ending, unconditional love a mother has for her child."

Buses also brought POW-MIA activists to the event from as far as Elko, Nev.

Though yellow ribbons on Main Street trees and "Bring Bowe Home" placards in Hailey shop windows are a constant reminder of the 27-year-old Bergdahl's captivity, organizers of the event said the Taliban offer has lent an addition element of urgency — and hope — to Saturday's gathering.

Many in the crowd said they were Vietnam veterans; some of them supported the proposed prisoner exchange without reservation.

"Give them their guys and get our guy home," said David Blunt, of Elko, Nev., who said he served in the U.S. Army in Vietnam as a medic. "Bring our guy home. He's suffered enough."

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