Captured soldier's family marks 2nd anniversary

AP News
Posted: Jun 30, 2011 2:58 PM
Captured soldier's family marks 2nd anniversary

The parents of the only U.S. soldier held by the Taliban marked the second anniversary of their son's capture on Thursday, saying the wisdom of former POWs from the Vietnam War has helped them endure the uncertainty of the prolonged ordeal.

Bowe Bergdahl, a 25-year-old Army sergeant from Hailey, Idaho, was taken prisoner June 30, 2009, in Afghanistan.

His parents, Bob and Jani Bergdahl, released a statement through Hailey Mayor Rick Davis expressing gratitude for the community's support and their hopes for an end to the conflict in Afghanistan.

They said they've been helped by POWs from the Vietnam War, including U.S. Navy pilots Render Crayton and Gerald Coffee, who advised them early in their son's ordeal to steel themselves for a lengthy wait.

"These two men, who know exactly what Bowe is going through, told us to have a long-term plan," Bob and Jani Bergdahl wrote. "During the summer of 2009, our family started pacing ourselves for the long haul, just like we believe Bowe has been doing."

Davis delivered the statement at Zaney's River Street Coffeehouse in Hailey, where Bergdahl had worked prior to his enlistment in the Army.

Crayton, a U.S. Navy pilot who spent seven years in captivity after his airplane was shot down over North Vietnam in 1966, now lives part of the year in Ketchum, Idaho.

He hopes word of Thursday's event in Hailey makes its way to Bowe Bergdahl and lifts his spirits, wherever he is. Crayton spent time in the same prison with U.S. Sen. John McCain before his release in 1973.

Crayton said he drew on his experience in enemy hands to encourage the Bergdahls to never give up hope, to press the U.S. government for everything it knew about their son, and to have faith in the strength of their son's character as he faces the challenge of his life.

"I told them, the human spirit is such that it's hard to break it," Crayton told The Associated Press. "I thought a lot of times about just going off in a corner and dying when I was imprisoned, but I couldn't do it because the will to live is so strong."

While it's unclear where Bergdahl is being held, video images released recently on the Internet show him with a senior official in the Haqqani network, which is based in Pakistan, active in Afghanistan and has ties to both al-Qaida and the Taliban.

Bergdahl grew up in Hailey, just a few miles south of the resort town of Sun Valley, Idaho. He was a member of the 4th Brigade Combat Team in the 25th Infantry Division stationed at Fort Richardson, Alaska, at the time he was taken prisoner.

The International Security Assistance Force, the NATO-led military mission in Afghanistan, released a statement on Thursday saying it's doing everything it can to find him.

"Ever since Sgt. Bergdahl's capture, U.S. and ISAF forces have made it a top priority to find him and bring him home safely to his family," said Rear Admiral Vic Beck, ISAF Public Affairs director. "We will continue in our effort to ensure his safe return."

The Bergdahl family has largely avoided the media during their ordeal, preferring to deliver their messages through U.S. military channels or family spokespersons. Bob Bergdahl made a rare public appeal in early May via the Internet, releasing a YouTube video in which he sought the help of Pakistan's military in securing the release of his son.

The Bergdahls said they deeply appreciated every expression of support they have received, including thousands of people who have tied yellow ribbons around trees, as they seek to bring Bowe back home with honor.

"This is our mission," they wrote. "Please continue with us in this ordeal by remembering all those suffering the consequences of this war and praying that peace may come to Afghanistan."