Army Sgt. Bowe Bergdahl will be honored in absentia as grand marshal during this year's Fourth of July Parade in Hailey. A yellow convertible will be driven during today's parade at noon to honor the captured soldier, followed by his parents, Bob and Jani Bergdahl.
Bergdahl was born and raised in Blaine County. He entered the Army in June 2008. He went missing from an Army base in the Paktika province of Afghanistan on June 30, 2009, and was reported "missing captured" three days later.
Hailey Chamber of Commerce Executive Director Heather Deckard said the decision to name Bergdahl as grand marshal was made "many months ago," before his father's interview with Rolling Stone magazine. The Rolling Stone article included emails between Bowe Bergdahl and his father prior to his capture. It suggests that Bowe may have walked off his post due to ethical objections to U.S. involvement there.
Deckard said that despite the controversial new information, the city's Fourth of July Committee has "purposefully stayed away from the politics of his situation."
"We still remember Bowe and look forward to him coming home," she said.
And, many Blaine County residents feel the same way. Bergdahl—well known in the Wood River Valley as an adventurer and thinker—grew up in Hailey before joining the Armed Forces. Support for the missing soldier and his family has come in many forms, from yellow ribbons to bumper stickers to participation in petitions calling for the government to take decisive action to bring Bergdahl home.
Bergdahl is the only known U.S. military captive of the Taliban. His plight has brought home the reality of the war in Afghanistan to Blaine County. He has appeared several times in videos posted by his captors on the Internet, pleading for his life and calling for U.S forces to leave Afghanistan.
High-level talks aimed at securing Bergdahl's release have so far been unsuccessful. When talks broke down earlier this year, the Bergdahl family broke an established protocol with U.S. intelligence officials and began to talk to the press.
In an May interview with the Idaho Mountain Express, Bob Bergdahl said he and his wife want to publicly thank activists across the globe who have initiated petitions and awareness campaigns to recognize Bowe and plead for his safe return to the United States. And, Mr. and Mrs. Bergdahl said, they are advocating that the Pentagon and the White House consider swapping one or more U.S. prisoners being held at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, for their son.
"I'm pushing it hard," Mr. Bergdahl said. "We started out by trying to encourage the Taliban to take care of our son. ... Now, we're worried that the government isn't concerned enough to put him on the (negotiating) table."
Mr. Bergdahl said he and his wife want to see a peaceful resolution to the standoff, preferably one that doesn't put other American soldiers in harm's way in order to secure Bowe's freedom.
"We don't want to see Americans killed," he said.
Mrs. Bergdahl said the family has reasons to believe that Bowe is still in captivity in Afghanistan or Pakistan.
"We know he is doing as well as he can be," she said in the May interview.
Mr. Bergdahl said he believes a deal to swap Taliban prisoners at Guantanamo for Bowe would be a "win-win" for the United States—his son could be returned safely to Idaho and the government could foster goodwill with the Afghan people. The ongoing imprisonment of suspected war criminals at the Cuba compound and reports of mistreatment of prisoners there encourages anti-American sentiment and might be helping some organizations to recruit soldiers to fight against the United States, he said.
Later in May, after the Bergdahls spoke to Idaho Mountain Express, the story of the family's plight to bring their son back to Idaho went global. Stories appeared in newspapers and on television news programs from Great Britian to Australia.