POW's Hometown Worked For Years To Bring Him Home

Stefanie O'Neill has been leading the "Bring Bowe Back" campaign in Hailey, Idaho. NPR's Rachel Martin talks to O'Neill about the hometown reaction to POW Sgt. Bowe Bergdahl's release.

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RACHEL MARTIN, HOST:

Sgt. Bowe Bergdahl's parents, Janie and Bob, are now anticipating a reunion with their son that for five long years seemed hard to imagine. After President Obama spoke in the rose garden yesterday, the Bergdahls each said a few words. Here's Sgt.t Bergdahl's father.

(SOUNDBITE OF PRESS CONFERENCE)

BOB BERGDAHL: The complicated nature of this recovery was - will never really be comprehended. To each and every single one who effected this, in this country, in the service branches, at the State Department, throughout the whole of American government and around the world - international governments around the world. Thank you so much.

O'NEILL: Bob has always kept his time on Afghan time. And I think that that's helped him a lot. He's always felt that he's where Bowe is.

MARTIN: That's the voice of Stefanie O'Neill. For years, she's led a public campaign in Sergeant Bergdahl's hometown of Hailey, Idaho, called Bring Bowe Back. And she's a close friend of the Bergdahl family. O'Neill told me that the entire town is celebrating his release.

O'NEILL: Absolute joy. We have - balloons have gone up. And people are celebrating. Strangers are hugging. It's just one big party here in Hailey.

MARTIN: You have been personally involved in this issue for years, trying to draw attention to Sgt. Bergdahl's captivity and to secure his release. Can you just tell us a little bit about how invested this community has been in that campaign?

O'NEILL: I think from the day the first yellow ribbons went up in 2009, this town and the entire Wood River Valley community has stood by the Bergdahl family. And we have - we've never let the ribbons fade. We've never taken the signs down. We've always hoped and prayed that this day would come.

MARTIN: You say that those ribbons never came down. After news of his capture, I imagine that there was a really strong response and a lot of attention paid, but then years passed. Did the focus ever diminish?

O'NEILL: I think around the fourth year we saw - maybe not here in Hailey, but as a nation, we were forgetting about Bowe. And certainly, even then, a lot of people didn't know about Bowe. But here in Hailey, no, it's never diminished.

MARTIN: You are a friend of the Bergdahl family, I understand?

O'NEILL: Yes.

MARTIN: Obviously, this has been a long, excruciating waiting game for them.

O'NEILL: Janie and Bob Bergdahl's support and hope for their son's return has never wavered. They're two of the strongest people that I have ever met. And as much as the community of Hailey has helped them through the past five years, they really have stood strong for us, as well.

MARTIN: What do you know about Bowe's return, if anything, and any future events to commemorate this occasion?

O'NEILL: Well, we have the annual Bring Bowe Back event. However, that has now been renamed Bowe is Back 2014. And that event will go forward here in Hailey, Idaho. It is going to be the largest welcome home party this country has ever seen.

MARTIN: Stefanie O'Neill - she's been leading the campaign for the release of Sergeant Bowe Bergdahl. She joined us on the phone from Bergdahl's hometown of Hailey, Idaho. Stefanie, thanks so much for talking with us.

O'NEILL: Thank you very much.

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