HAILEY, Idaho — There will be no hero's welcome for Sgt. Bowe Bergdahl in his hometown, no fanfare of parades, music or picnics in the park.
A planned celebration for the end of June marking his return after five years of Taliban captivity in Afghanistan has been scrapped, largely due to security concerns as his release has touched off a nationwide debate. Was he an American prisoner of war who should be welcomed home after years in the enemy's hands or a deserter who abandoned his unit who should be punished accordingly?
For those who knew Bergdahl and his family in this small central Idaho town surrounded by forests and mountains, the politics of war have no place. They just want Bergdahl back home.
"It's like a modern day lynching. He hasn't even been able to give his side of the story yet. This community will welcome him back no matter what," said Lee Ann Ferris, who lives next door to the Bergdahl family and watched Bowe grow up. "He's a hometown kid and he's already suffered enough."
The town of 8,000 has been swamped with hate mail and angry calls, labeling the 28-year-old Bergdahl un-American and a traitor. Given the prospect of large crowds on both sides of the debate, organizers abruptly canceled their welcome home celebration.