A grassroots petition to bring awareness to the plight of captured Blaine County soldier Sgt. Bowe Bergdahl has gathered more than 250,000 signatures this week, a goal that was celebrated in Park Falls, Wisc., by hundreds of supporters with patriotic banners, flags and a hot air balloon.
"[Bowe's mother] Jani Bergdahl thought it was a wonderful idea," said Brenda Webber of Wausau, Wisc. Her son Johnny Webber, a 15-year-old adopted immigrant from Russia, started the petition last year in an effort to build public support for Bergdahl and lobby for his release back onto American soil.
"We are proud of our son's efforts," Brenda Webber said in an interview.
She said she has gotten to know the Bergdahl family and some of Bowe's friends since her son started the petition in March.
"Bowe sounds like a nice young man in a terrible spot," she said. "The Bergdahls feel like family to us. Bowe Bergdahl has a second home in Wisconsin."
Bergdahl is believed to have been captured by Taliban forces in June 2009 while on patrol in Paktika province in eastern Afghanistan. Details of the circumstances that led to his capture remain sketchy, but a recent interview given by his father, Bob Bergdahl, to Rolling Stone magazine indicates that he may have voluntarily left his post.
Despite the possibility that Bergdahl walked away from his base, signatures in support of him have mounted, reaching more than 253,000 as of this week. The petition will formally be ended on July 31, Brenda Webber said.
Initial plans to deliver the signatures on the floor of the Wisconsin Senate or to President Barack Obama have been changed, Brenda Webber said. She said that after consulting with the Bergdahl family, a decision was made to instead deliver them to a U.S. military general in coming weeks, to be "safeguarded" until Bowe Bergdahl's return.
She said the general, whose name will be announced soon, would deliver the signatures to Bergdahl if he is brought back to the United States.
"He will not longer be a POW, but again will be a U.S. soldier," she said.
For more information or to download the petition, go to www.dosalute.net.
Tony Evans: firstname.lastname@example.org