Comfort For Our Only POW’s Kin

Susan Page
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Wednesday - August 12, 2009
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Flags and signs decorate the front of Zaney’s Coffee in Hailey, Idaho, showing support for POW Bowe Bergdahl
Flags and signs decorate the front of Zaney’s Coffee in Hailey, Idaho, showing support for POW Bowe Bergdahl

On Sunday, Aug. 2, my husband Jerry Coffee and I flew to Hailey, Idaho.

Hailey, population 7,844, elevation 5,300 feet, is just up the road from the fashionable resort towns of Sun Valley and Ketchum, and home to Bob and Jani Bergdahl, parents of Bowe Bergdahl, the young soldier held captive by the Taliban.

The Bergdahls and Jerry have a mutual friend, who felt Jerry, given his seven-plus years as a POW in North Vietnam, might be able to offer this grieving family some sound advice about the situation in which they find themselves.

Having heard some irresponsible and unfounded speculation about Bowe’s capture on a major network show, we didn’t know what to expect, but when we met Jani, Bob, their daughter Sky and her husband Mike (an Navy FA-18 pilot at Top Gun School in Fallon, Nev.) and their three young grandchildren in front of the Presbyterian Church of the Big Wood in Ketchum, we immediately felt a strong connection.

Jani is a lovely petite brunette with kind eyes - even as tears threaten to spill forth - that invite you in. Bob, a tall, lean “Swede” of “Viking stock” (his words) with the look of an outdoors-man and athlete, has the vocabulary of a scholar. The Bergdahls bear an openness common to small-town American folk with nothing to hide. They hug warmly, giving unexpected comfort to us well-intentioned. Unpretentious and humble, they credit faith for sustaining them as they navigate the darkness of the unknown regarding their only son.

Jani home-schooled both children, teaching them well in the ways of manners, graciousness and the Bible. Bob, the UPS driver in the area, is known for both his friendliness and background as a champion cyclist. Some (like Jerry) know of his dad, Bowe’s grandfather, a UCLA football star in the 1950s.

Hailey friends and employers know Bowe as chivalrous, engaging, an adventurer and a dedicated employee.

“I want to be on the front lines close to the fight to make a difference,” Bowe told his surprised parents about his decision after signing up as a private in the Army. Jani and Bob knew Bowe’s independent spirit would resist their input on the subject. He reminded Jerry and me of our own sons.

During lunch it became clear the Bergdahls are trying to do everything they believe good, patriotic Americans should do under this unimaginable circumstance, trying not to be the “squeaky wheel.”

“Remember all our soldiers in your prayers, too,” Jani always says. “Some may be searching for Bowe this very moment.” They haven’t made waves, demands or done interviews with the media per the Army’s advice. But DoD communication has been sparse and slow coming.

Their sadness - and sometimes anger - comes threatening like dark Idaho storm clouds.

“Usually when I’m down I bring Jani down with me,”

Bob admits their spirits rise and fall. The video of Bowe released July 18 by his Taliban captors raised hopes, but also more questions. E-mails of support from as far away as India lift their spirits, but unfounded speculation disheartens.

The Bergdahls are afraid Bowe will be forgotten and left to languish, reminding us of how the wives of so many hundreds of Vietnam MIA and POW, fed up, finally spoke up.

Remember the POW bracelets?

Hailey citizens are doing everything they can - their candlelight vigil brought out hundreds - but Bowe, a U.S. soldier, belongs to America. We should all rally round him.

Jerry gave the Bergdahls some important advice:

1) Don’t believe what they see on TV. Bowe is under duress, pressured to make propaganda statements. 2) Keep faith in their son, his character and strengths. 3) Take one day at a time - how Jerry and other POWs survived many years in a filthy Communist prison. 4) Prayer works.

For more information on Bowe and how to help the Bergdahls, go to http://supportbowebergdahl.blogspot.c om/.

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