Wood River Valley shows support for soldier captured in Afghanistan
A Hailey stoplight is adorned with a yellow ribbon and a sign pleading for Pfc. Bowe R. Bergdahl's safe return to Idaho. Friends and family of the U.S. soldier are asking that people send prayers and 'positive energy' for Bergdahl's safe return.

HAILEY - Zaney's River Street Coffee is doubly off the beaten path - it's in a small town in Idaho, and it's not even on the main drag.

But when news of the Afghanistan capture of Pfc. Bowe R. Bergdahl hit the national media on Sunday, Zaney's quickly became the town's heart.

Bergdahl, 23, who grew up in Hailey, worked for more than a year as a barista and greeter at Zaney's before enlisting in the U.S. Army. He was captured by the Taliban June 30, after reportedly walking away from his base unarmed.

By noon on Monday, bouquets were beginning to appear at Zaney's, and yellow ribbons and yellow signs reading "Bring Bowe Home" sprang up on trees and business windows throughout Hailey and Ketchum. Zaney's owner, Sue Martin, said she and other close friends of the family had known about Bergdahl's capture for a few weeks, but at the request of his family and their military advisors, were keeping the news as quiet as they could. They were also keeping the young man in their prayers.

"All you can do is pray for his safe return," said Minna Casser, a neighbor and family friend of the Bergdahls.

Casser said the Bergdahls, who have asked not to be contacted by the media, are grateful for these prayers and the letters and e-mails that have been pouring in.

According to Lt. Col. Tim Marsano of the Idaho National Guard, the military asked that the family keep news of Bergdahl's capture quiet until Sunday.

"The Department of Defense has felt it's been critical to keep this close held so as not to interfere with getting him home safely," Marsano said. He said the military had planned to release Bergdahl's identity prior to the Taliban release of the video. "The two things happened closely together."

Because information about a captive could be used against him in a hostage-type situation, Bergdahl family friend and Blaine County Sheriff Walt Femling declined to give any details about Bergdahl's background in a press conference Monday.

Other neighbors and friends, with the family's permission, have begun to open up about their memories of Bergdahl before he left for war. Even they are cautious, however, about what they say to the media.

"It's like the ballet thing, you never know how the Taliban would see such a thing," said Casser, referencing Bergdahl's time studying with the Sun Valley Ballet School. She described him as hardworking and unfailingly polite, always using "ma'am" and "sir," who would regularly ride his bicycle the 15 miles from Hailey to Ketchum and back to work or on other errands. Homeschooled, he was an avid reader, she said, who loved to learn, going so far as to teach himself Russian for fun.

"He wanted to travel and get out into the world," said neighbor Lee Ann Ferris. "He wanted to fight for his country."

The two neighbors said they have been overwhelmed by the media attention to the town as well as the community's response, and cautioned everyone not to make assumptions or guess about the situation, because errors of fact and rumors could be hurtful to Bergdahl and his family.

"His parents don't know more than what the military has told us (publicly)," Casser said.

Hailey, a town used to keeping mum about high-profile celebrities, managed to hold its communal tongue about Bergdahl's capture even as it sought ways to support the family.

Martin, asked by the Bergdahl family to be their spokeswoman when the news broke, suggested that anyone concerned about Bergdahl send a letter or care package to another soldier on the war front. "I think Bowe would appreciate that as well."

Although satellite trucks and microphones remained set up in front of Zaney's, no formal candlelight vigil or other gathering of friends and well-wishers had been planned as of early Monday evening.

Ariel Hansen may be reached at ahansen@magicvalley.com or 208-788-3475.

To support Bowe Berghahl's family

Visit the Web and social networking sites that have been set up in Pfc. Bowe Bergdahl's honor, or write or send flowers or mementoes care of Zaney's, 208 N. River St., Hailey, ID 83333.

All personal messages will be forwarded to the family to be received in private. The family also appreciates all prayers and wishes for their son's health and safe return.

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