SalemNews.com, Salem, MA

Nation/World

June 22, 2013

Idaho town holds out hope for soldier's return

HAILEY, Idaho — The yellow ribbons, some tattered, some faded, can be seen long before state Highway 75 spills into Hailey, Idaho — home to America’s only prisoner of war in its conflict with Afghanistan. They hang from roadside utility poles and in front of homes near the one where Bowe Bergdahl grew up. They adorn virtually every tree and light post on Main Street, where signs in shop windows issue pleas to “Bring Bowe Home.”

The ribbons may be the most visible sign that the people of Hailey haven’t forgotten the Army sergeant who, four years ago June 30, disappeared from his base in southeastern Afghanistan and was taken captive by the Taliban.

But there are other reminders, too: The Norway maple trees— one for each year Bergdahl has been held — planted in the local park. Even Bergdahl’s father, once the town’s clean-shaven UPS deliveryman, has grown a long beard, a personal monument to his son’s plight, not likely to be shorn until he is freed.

The Afghan war, and the taking of this POW, may have long faded from the minds of most Americans. But for this community in the shadow of Idaho’s Sawtooth Mountains, Bowe Bergdahl and his family’s fight to free him are “omnipresent,” said local Wesley Deklotz. “It’s a whole community of people that are keeping him in their thoughts.”

And now, for the first time in a long time, this place has reason to hope that the 27-year-old soldier could soon be home.

On Thursday, the Taliban proposed a deal in which they would free Bergdahl in exchange for five of their most senior operatives at Guantanamo Bay. The proposition came just days ahead of possible talks between a U.S. delegation and Taliban members in Qatar. And while the idea of a swap has been raised previously, the news electrified Bergdahl’s parents, Bob and Jani, who see it as a far more serious sign that the Taliban is willing to let their son go.

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