HAILEY, Idaho — The news Saturday of Army Sgt. Bowe Bergdahl’s release from captivity spread quickly in his hometown in southern Idaho, and residents immediately began making plans for a welcome-home celebration.
An annual event called “Bring Bowe Back” scheduled for June 28 was quickly renamed “Bowe is Back.”
“It is going to be Bowe’s official welcome-home party even if he’s not quite home yet,” organizer Stefanie O’Neill said Saturday.
Bergdahl, 28, had been held prisoner by the Taliban since June 30, 2009. He was handed over to U.S. special forces in exchange for the release of five Afghan detainees held by the U.S.
In Hailey, a town of 7,000 residents, residents have hung yellow ribbons along the one major road that travels through the heart of the community. Signs were taped up Saturday that said: “Bowe is free at last!”
Hailey resident Audrey Kirk said she found out about Bergdahl’s release after her sister texted her the news.
“I remember when he was captured. It was awful,” said Kirk, who attends the same church as Bergdahl’s parents. “When I got the text, I just started screaming and went to turn on the TV. It’s surreal that he’s coming home.”
Rebecca DeShields, also a Hailey resident, said that when she heard about the news she grabbed her bike and attached a bright yellow balloon to the front. “This is a story of redemption, this is a story of one of our own coming home,” she said.
DeShields was standing outside Zaney’s River Street Cafe, where Bergdahl used to work as a barista. The coffee shop became the town’s center for friends and acquaintances to show support for Bergdahl.
For years, a sign that hung in the window read: “Get Bowe Back.” On Saturday, it was accompanied with two more signs that said: “Welcome home, Bowe!” and “Our prayers have been answered!”