Jani Bergdahl, left, shows Tracie Carlson the motorcycle jacket she got on eBay to hold pins and patches she’s received from motorcyclists from across Idaho and Nevada. Bergdahl’s son, Army Spc. Bowe Bergdahl, was captured by the Taliban in Afghanistan in June 2009. KAREN BOSSICK/For the Times-News
HAILEY — Tears rimmed Jani Bergdahl’s eyes as she joined 90 Woodside Elementary School fourth-graders in their chant.
“Bring Bowe home! Bring Bowe home!”
It was a bittersweet moment for the Hailey woman, whose son Spc. Bowe Bergdahl is believed to still be held by the Taliban in Afghanistan since being captured in June 2009.
“Sorry, I didn’t know this was going to be so emotional,” she said, wiping tears away as she stood to address the Hailey schoolchildren.
Bergdahl made a rare public appearance Monday afternoon to thank the students for letters they wrote to President Barack Obama, urging him to bring Bowe back home safely. The students presented Bergdahl with two scrapbooks holding copies of those letters, as well as cards and pictures they’d made for the family.
“Could you try your hardest to bring Bowe home from Afghanistan?” wrote Gracie Doyle. “I think that maybe you could talk to the president of Afghanistan.”
“Please do whatever you can do!” wrote Leslye Ambriz. “Once they find him, the United States will be filled with peace.”
Bergdahl spent nearly 40 minutes with the children, handing out plastic bracelets made for Bowe, showing them family pictures and patiently answering questions.
Some were predictable — what was Bowe’s favorite color? (Blue.) What were his favorite sports? (Sailing and motorcycling.) But most centered around the Hailey soldier’s capture and hoped-for release.
Bergdahl said Bowe was named after Beaudry, a Texas ranger in a Louis L’Amour Western. He grew up with Peruvian sheepherders and loved different cultures.
“So I think he probably has compassion for his captors,” Bergdahl said.
Bergdahl told the children that she believes her son, now 24, was alone and perhaps going to the bathroom when he was captured. His captors have asked for $1 million and a trade for other prisoners.
“But if we gave money for Bowe, we’re afraid his captors will steal another soldier and want more money,” she said.
Bergdahl told the children the sight of uniformed men showing up at her door was very scary.
“To this day I think: Did this really happen?” she said. “I thought at first that he would be found in a few days, then a few weeks, then a few months. I don’t think I would have been able to handle it had I known then that it would be over a year.”
Tracie Carlson, whose daughter Alyssa goes to Woodside, launched the letter-writing campaign after she met Bowe’s father, Bob, on his delivery route for UPS.
Fourth-grader Kennedy Watts said she was glad her class had had a chance to do something for Bergdahl.
“I wanted to do it because Bowe is a really nice person. I know because he danced with me at the Sun Valley Ballet School,” she said. “His family misses him and a lot of people want him back.”