Grim Anniversary for Family of Idaho Soldier Held Captive in Afghanistan

For the family and friends of Spc. Bowe W. Bergdahl of Hailey, Idaho, Wednesday marked 365 days of unbearable agony and anxiety. It's been exactly one year since the young soldier was captured by insurgents in Afghanistan, making him the only American service member known to be held prisoner by the enemy.

It's an anniversary no one hopes will be repeated in 2011.

"Since he was captured on June 30, 2009, it has been a top priority for U.S. and coalition forces to find him, recover him and bring him home safely," said Rear Adm. Greg Smith, deputy chief of staff for communication. "We continue our efforts to determine his whereabouts and ensure his safe return."

Blaine County Sheriff Walt Femling read a statement by Bergdahl’s parents Wednesday at Zaney’s River Street Coffee House, which has become a gathering spot for reporters and the community in support of Bergdahl and his family.

The family thanks everyone for continued thoughts and prayers saying, "We have no choice but to rise and meet the challenges that come to us. We believe this is what Bowe has done and we're following his lead. We're trying to find courage and be patient while doing everything we can to keep hope during this difficult situation," Femling read.

The family requested privacy last year after their son was captured, and they have avoided direct contact with the public and the media.

“As you can imagine, the family is going through a very difficult time. They rely on support from family, friends and neighbors in this tight-knit community and also from POW and MIA support groups,” explained Col. Timothy Marsano of the Idaho National Guard. “The family has received well wishes in the form of cards, letters and e-mails from around the world.”

The residents of Bergdahl's mountain hometown will replace the torn and tattered yellow ribbons that were attached to trees, signposts and storefronts last summer. “There are hundreds of yards of 3-inch yellow ribbon sitting in Zaney’s River Street Coffee House to be distributed to the community, symbolizing the renewed hope for Bowe’s return,” Marsano told

The community remembers Bergdahl, 24, as a hardworking, mild-mannered man who had a variety of jobs and activities as he searched for a purpose in life before he set his sights on the military.

Bergdahl performed with the Sun Valley Ballet School. He was in the Sun Valley Swords fencing club, sparring at a renaissance fair with a buddy in 2003. He was a voracious reader who would frequently spend hours at a local library.

He also bounced between jobs, working two separate stints at a local coffee house, then spending the summer of 2007 cleaning guns and stocking targets at the shooting club near his home. Co-workers remember him riding his bike everywhere, including on a long-distance California bike tour.

Bergdahl signed U.S. Army paperwork in June 2008 and went off to basic training in Fort Benning, Ga. He was deployed to Afghanistan in February 2009.

Secretary of Defense Robert Gates pledged that the military was doing everything it could to bring him home.

Meanwhile, those who know the young man who traded the long blond hair of his youth for the crewcut of an Army private say he was unfailingly polite and hardworking, but clearly on the lookout for something to define his life.

"He was good every which way you looked at it," said Dick Mandeville, the former manager at the Blaine County Gun Club.

Bergdahl showed up at the range in 2007, looking for summer work. He and Mandeville got along well, with Bergdahl's duties including helping shooters on the trap fields, stocking targets and cleaning racks full of rifles.

Bergdahl grew up about 6 miles west of Hailey, in a humble home with a weathered metal roof set back from the gravel of Croy Creek Road.

His parents, Bob and Jani Bergdahl, came here years ago for a reason, neighbors said: The seclusion of the high sage hills that flank their place would help them live in peace and quiet. Bowe and his older sister, Sky, were home-schooled. His father worked as a local UPS driver.

Bowe eventually got a job with Sue Martin at Zaney's River Street Coffee House. Not surprisingly, he showed up on his ever-present bicycle looking for a job.

"He had the opening shift. He got along really well with the regulars," said Martin, who was one of the few locals to speak on the record in 2009, a decision she made, in part, to take pressure off Bergdahl's camera-shy family.

When asked if she knew what prompted him to join the Sun Valley Ballet School, Martin smiles. "Bowe was no dummy," she said. "There were beautiful young women in the ballet."

At the cafe, he talked about the prospect of a military future.

His sister had married a graduate of the U.S. Naval Academy in Annapolis about eight years earlier.

Consequently, Bergdahl's blond hair went from long to short, a sign he was getting serious. Martin doesn't know exactly why he sought out the Army, but she said he was always on the lookout for a new adventure.

"He just wanted to learn everything he could learn," she said. "He was always seeking new experiences."

The town of Hailey tried its best to keep word of his captivity from leaking out to the broader public.

First, there was respect for the privacy of Bob and Jani Bergdahl.

Friends and acquaintances also feared a media furor could put Bowe's life even more at risk.

"I was shocked when I found out," said Jim Spinelli, head of the Hailey Chamber of Commerce, who attributes this discretion to locals' longtime respect for the privacy of celebrities such as Bruce Willis, Arnold Schwarzenegger and Tom Hanks, who call this central Idaho resort region their second home.

On July 2 last year, two U.S. officials told the AP a soldier had "just walked off" his base with three Afghans; four days later, the Taliban claimed "a drunken American soldier had come out of his garrison" and was taken by Afghan militants. And in a video released by the Taliban, Bergdahl indicated he was taken captive after lagging behind on patrol.

Femling, engaged by the Bergdahls as a spokesman, knows the family well. In 2006, he rented one of his apartments to Bergdahl at a time when the then-20-year-old was "just starting out on his own and wanted to have his own place."

Femling said he normally wouldn't have rented to someone so young, but he made an exception because he knew Bergdahl was responsible, and also because he had known his father for more than 20 years.

"He was quiet and curious," Femling said. "He was looking for some of that adventure that 20-year-olds want to do."

In one startling 28-minute Taliban video, Bergdahl, sporting a shaved head, tells a captor he fears never being able to hug his family again. The last Taliban propaganda video, released in April, showed him pleading for his freedom and to be returned home. But there is no way to verify when the footage was taken.'s Meghan Baker and the AP contributed to this report.