The city of Hailey was abuzz with excitement and tearful with relief after news Saturday morning that Sgt. Bowe Bergdahl was released after nearly five years in captivity.
By early this week, political leaders from Blaine County to the Idaho governor’s office had sent messages of thanks and gratitude to the Bergdahl family.
An impromptu press conference was held Saturday afternoon at Zaney’s coffeehouse on River Street in Hailey, where Bergdahl worked as a barista before joining the U.S Army in 2008.
Details about his capture on June 28, 2009, remain unclear, and his release was secured by trading five Taliban detainees from Guantanamo Bay, Cuba.
But on Saturday in Hailey, all that seemed to matter was that Bergdahl was safe and soon to be reunited with his family.
Zaney’s café owner and family friend Sue Martin said she was driving her grandchildren to go fishing when she was informed by her daughter of Bergdahl’s release.
“All I could think was, Bowe is coming home and I am taking my grandchildren fishing. How could I be any happier.” Martin said, before taking her place in front of television camera crews and a crowd of about 25 people. She said she was grateful that Bergdahl was released without a violent incident.
“I am thankful that not a single shot was fired. That is what Bob [Bergdahl] had hoped for,” said Martin.
Hailey Police Chief Jeff Gunter, a close friend of the Bergdahl family, said at the press conference that he was besieged by calls and emails since news emerged about Bergdahl’s release.
“There are many tears of joy. People are relieved,” Gunter said. “The emotions felt five years ago when he was captured have now been reversed. Women have called saying they have not been able to put their makeup on because they can’t stop crying. I have heard that champagne corks are being popped.”
Ketchum Mayor Nina Jonas issued a statement of support on Monday, pointing out that the pasture from Ketchum to Sun Valley has been long been marked by a yellow ribbon on every fence post, a symbol of solidarity with the Bergdahls.
“After five years, the dream has come true,” Jonas said. “We are so happy for him and for his family. We are looking forward to the day that he will be back in our community and we can take down the yellow ribbons.”
Idaho Gov. Butch Otter delivered the following statement on Sunday, after being notified of the release of Bergdahl.
“Miss Lori [Otter’s wife] and I couldn’t be happier. Bowe has been in all our prayers for years. So his release from Taliban captivity is cause to continue our prayers—now in gratitude for their fulfillment. We join all of Idaho and America in expressing our joy and welcoming this wonderful news. We look forward to Sgt. Bergdahl’s safe return to Idaho and his reunion with family, friends, and all those who have rallied around them. Today, Idaho gives thanks. Soon we all will celebrate Bowe’s freedom and homecoming.”
A major celebration will take place at Hop Porter Park in Hailey on June 28. The soldier’s parents, Bob and Jani Bergdahl, will speak at the event. They will be joined by political leaders and Bergdahl family supporters. Grammy Award-winning singer Carole King is scheduled to perform.
Following the release of Bergdahl, the theme of the event has changed. Originally planned as a rally to raise awareness of the plight of Bowe Bergdahl, and titled “Bring Bowe Back,” the event will now be a celebration to mark his release, titled “Bowe Is Back,” said event co-organizer Stefanie Oneill.
“This will be the biggest welcome-home party ever held,” Oneill said, who organized a similar event last year that drew thousands of supporters and hundreds of motorcycles to Hop Porter Park on Bullion Street.
Oneill attributed Bergdahl’s release to rallies that have been held around the country for Bergdahl, including a card-writing campaign that resulted in 700,000 cards in support of Bergdahl being sent to the White House last year.
“This [Bergdahl’s release] would not have happened without pressure from people,” Oneill said.
Hailey Chamber of Commerce board chair Jane Drussell said she was going to celebrate Bergdahl’s release Saturday “with a big cold one.”
Idaho Sen. Michelle Stennett of Ketchum said at Zaney’s on Saturday that she was “pleased, relieved and grateful” to hear the news about Bergdahls’ release. She praised the support shown from Bergdahl’s community for raising awareness about the soldier for five years.
“You also cannot fault the effort of Bob and Jani Bergdahl at all levels, including the State Department. They would not let it rest,” said Stennett.
Stennett also praised efforts by the Idaho congressional delegation, the U.S. military and the federal government for securing his release.
“It has been a large effort,” she said.
Stennett said she had already been working on a speech to deliver at the June 28 event, but because of the news of Bergdahl’s release, she is now having to start over.
“I am going to write something much happier,” she said.
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Hailey reacts to negative comments about Bergdahl
Hailey Mayor Fritz Haemmerle issued a statement Monday on behalf of the city of Hailey in response to negative comments sent to City Hall about Sgt. Bowe Bergdahl:
“The city of Hailey is very pleased with the release of Bowe Bergdahl from captivity. For these last nearly five years, the city of Hailey has stood by Bowe Bergdahl’s family in their quest to bring their son home. That day has arrived, and the city of Hailey can take comfort that Bowe Bergdahl has been returned.
Past Bowe Bergdahl celebrations in Hailey have focused on bringing this soldier home. For the men and women who choose to serve, the city of Hailey believes we do not leave our soldiers behind. Bowe Bergdahl’s family is a part of our community. We celebrate the return of their son to his hometown.
The city of Hailey has received many phone calls and e-mails on the extreme polar sides of Bowe Bergdahl’s release. There are those who have negative opinions about the release of Bowe Bergdahl and the city of Hailey’s planned celebration of the return of this young man to his hometown. Some of these negative e-mails do raise some very important points. If objective facts and a careful investigation reveal that Bowe Bergdahl should face consequences in a United States courtroom, then the United States should do what it believes is necessary. On the other hand if the same investigation shows that there is no evidence to support any action, then the process has worked, and people should take comfort that due process has been served.
The city of Hailey respectfully requests that people do not pre-judge this young man. The city of Hailey believes in due process, and we are very happy to let the process unfold. In the meantime, our celebration will focus on Bowe Bergdahl’s release and the relief of his family and those who live here.
Bergdahl celebration scheduled
The Wood River Valley will celebrate the release of U.S. Army Sgt. Bowe Bergdahl in an event called “Bowe is Back” on Saturday, June 28, from 1-5 p.m. at Hop Porter Park in Hailey. The event was going to be called “Bring Bowe Back” but the name and the theme were changed after the soldier from Hailey was released from captivity in Afghanistan on Saturday. Event co-organizer Debbie Oneill said Bergdahl’s parents, Bob and Jani Bergdahl, will speak at the event. In addition, singer-songwriter Carole King will perform. Idaho Sen. Michelle Stennett, D-Ketchum, will be the keynote speaker. The event will feature activities for children and food will be served. For details, go to www.bringboweback2014.com