Bergdahl's hometown reacts to national, international attention

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by Stephanie Zepelin

NWCN.com

Posted on June 4, 2014 at 9:21 PM

Updated Thursday, Jun 5 at 5:46 AM

HAILEY, Idaho -- Over the last few days, the dialogue about Sgt. Bowe Bergdahl has shifted.

On Wednesday, most people in Hailey would not speak with KTVB about Bergdahl because of how divisive and controversial this story has become.

The national and international interest in the story has prompted organizers to cancel a celebration for Bergdahl that they had been planning since before his release. City officials cited safety concerns and lack of infrastructure to accommodate large crowds of protesters and supporters in their decision.

The faded yellow ribbons around the town of Hailey mark the years since one of their own was captured. Bergdahl has not seen his hometown in about five years, but now the eyes of the nation and the world are all on Hailey, as the controversy surrounding his release grows.

"The situation certainly does seem to be changing quite a bit. I guess the story is developing, and we'll find out what there is to find out hopefully soon," said Becky Henry, who has lived in the Wood River Valley more than 20 years.

The City of Hailey has been inundated with hundreds of calls and emails.

"Some are in support of Bergdahl, and some of them claim that Bergdahl is a deserter or traitor, and we're getting a lot of those conversations sent our way, " said Heather Dawson, Hailey City Administrator.

Dawson has been handling all of the phone calls, and says she listens to each voicemail, but she says this volume of calls and emails is more than they expected.

The city and the organizers of "Bowe is Back" decided Wednesday to cancel the event because of the nation-wide attention.

"We expect the event to grow to a size that we won't be able to handle. We're only a town of 8,000. We won't have the capacity for the volume of people that may come to town," said Dawson.

Dawson says the decision was simply about the logistics of the event, and not because of the negative or threatening nature of some of the emails they've received.

"I feel pretty strongly that the fact that the city has to put out a statement to not prejudge Bowe and his circumstances says a lot," said Nick Busdon, a father in the Wood River Valley. "It's pretty troublesome when the city government has to put that statement out there. I don't feel that we should prejudge him no matter what happened."

Busdon has lived in the Wood River Valley for more than 20 years.

"We should be coming together a little bit more cohesively, rather than separating like we are between saying he's a traitor, saying he should be put on trial for treason," he said. "Some people are saying put him to death. It's way overblown."

Busdon said much of what happened in Afghanistan in June 2009 is still unknown.

KTVB found out Wednesday that there have been cancellations at at least one hotel in Hailey due to fallout from the Bergdahl story, but no one who worked for the hotels was willing to go on camera.

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