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Archive for Monday, July 20, 2009

Idaho town prays for return of soldier from Afghanistan

July 20, 2009

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— Friends and family of an Idaho soldier who was captured in Afghanistan prayed for his safe return Sunday, shaken by the image of the frightened young private in a Taliban video posted online.

Pfc. Bowe R. Bergdahl, 23, was serving with an Alaska-based infantry regiment earlier this month when he vanished, just five months after arriving in Afghanistan. He was serving at a base near the border with Pakistan in an area known to be a Taliban stronghold.

Bergdahl is from Hailey, a town of about 7,000 people in central Idaho where he worked as a barista and was active in ballet. A sign that hangs in the window of Zaney’s River Street Coffee House says “Get Bowe Back,” and a message inside asks customers to “Join all of us at Zaney’s holding light for our friend.”

Sue Martin, owner of the coffee shop, said she knew Bergdahl as a free-spirited young man with blond hair who rode his bicycle everywhere in town and was keen to learn as much as he could about the world.

“He joined the ballet. Then he joined the Army,” Martin said in an interview from a room at Zaney’s, which has become an impromptu meeting place for friends, acquaintances and the media since the Taliban video was shown around the world. “People have been calling and asking what they could bring to show their support.”

Bergdahl’s family issued a statement asking people to keep the soldier in their thoughts and prayers, but told The Associated Press they were asking that the media respect their privacy.

Neighbors and others in the community have known for weeks that Bergdahl had been captured, but said the family urged them not to talk about the kidnapping out of fear that publicity would compromise his safety. Idaho Gov. C.L. “Butch” Otter told the AP that he had been working to keep the soldier’s name quiet until it was officially released.

In the video posted Saturday on a Web site pointed out by the Taliban, Bergdahl says his name and his hometown. The Pentagon confirmed his identity Sunday.

The family, described by neighbors as deeply private, lives six miles west of Hailey on a remote gravel county road. The humble home has a metal roof and several outbuildings, and vehicles parked in front. The family has chained and locked the front gate, and a small cardboard sign says: “No visitors.”

Neighbors are abiding by the family’s wishes not to comment on the record about Bergdahl’s capture, but described the 23-year-old as an “adventurous” soul who was educated at home, danced ballet and took part in a sport fencing club.

In the 28-minute video, Bergdahl said he was “scared I won’t be able to go home.” He said he was lagging behind a patrol when he was captured, which conflicts with earlier military accounts that indicated he walked off the base with three Afghans.

It wasn’t clear who initially captured Bergdahl, but the U.S. command in Afghanistan said he was being held by the Taliban and condemned the video as a violation of international law.

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