Skip to main content

Bowe Bergdahl: Strong, well-rounded and easy to talk to, friends say

By Steve Almasy, CNN
updated 7:14 PM EDT, Thu June 5, 2014
STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • Army Sgt. Bowe Bergdahl is released by the Taliban
  • Bergdahl grew up in Idaho, was home schooled
  • He didn't like cars, so he rode his bike a lot, even in poor weather
  • Former boat captain in Alaska remembers him as good worker under tough conditions

(CNN) -- Most people know U.S. Army Sgt. Bowe Bergdahl only through news reports that chronicled the soldier's captivity for nearly five years at the hands of militants in Afghanistan.

He was the man featured in so-called proof-of-life videos released by the Taliban, pleading for his freedom.

In some, he seemed to be in diminished health, a picture that has been hard to grasp for family and friends. For them, "strong" has been a word often associated with Bergdahl.

That attribute no doubt served the 28-year-old well during his captivity, which ended Saturday with his release in exchange for five detainees from Guantanamo Bay Naval Base.

As long as there has been war, there have been prisoners. And as long as there have been people held by the so-called enemy, there have been some who went free -- whether they escaped, were exchanged or were released. Army Sgt. Bowe Bergdahl is now part of the club. Nearly five years after his capture in Afghanistan, Bergdahl was recently released in exchange for five detainees from the U.S. military detention center in Guantanamo Bay, Cuba. What will Bergdahl do next? Time will tell. As long as there has been war, there have been prisoners. And as long as there have been people held by the so-called enemy, there have been some who went free -- whether they escaped, were exchanged or were released. Army Sgt. Bowe Bergdahl is now part of the club. Nearly five years after his capture in Afghanistan, Bergdahl was recently released in exchange for five detainees from the U.S. military detention center in Guantanamo Bay, Cuba. What will Bergdahl do next? Time will tell.
Famous captives: Life after freedom
HIDE CAPTION
<<
<
1
2
3
4
5
6
7
8
9
10
11
>
>>
Famous captives: Life after freedom Famous captives: Life after freedom
Adviser: Preemptive claims 'repugnant'
Doc in Senate convinced Bergdahl drugged

"Sgt. Bergdahl is now under the care of the U.S. military after being handed over by his captors in Afghanistan," Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel said in a written statement.

Army's three phase program for Bergdahl

"We will give him all the support he needs to help him recover from this ordeal, and we are grateful that he will soon be reunited with his family."

Missing U.S. soldier seen in new video

Among those who know Bergdahl, he's been referred to as a Renaissance man in the making who learned ballet, took up the sport of fencing and loved the outdoors. He rode motorcycles and learned to sail, and by the age of 23 had been part of an expedition that took him from the Atlantic Ocean to the Pacific.

Friends from Bergdahl's hometown, Hailey, Idaho, said he dreamed of using a boat and his bicycle to ride around the world; he has an adventurous spirit and wanted to go see the world.

He toured Europe before joining the Army.

After he was taken captive, CNN spoke to friends of his, including a fishing boat captain who hired Bergdahl two years earlier. Bergdahl spent 10 weeks on the vessel near Bristol Bay, Alaska, pulling in sockeye salmon for 18 to 20 hours a day.

Dan Collins said it was hard, grueling work.

"But he was up to it," Collins said. "I am at times not the easiest guy to get along with, being a fishing boat's captain. But I imagine I am easy compared to what he is dealing with every day now."

In his hometown, many residents kept yellow ribbons tied around trees. It was there in 2009 that Sue Martin, owner of Zaney's Coffee Shop, spoke glowingly of her former barista.

"Bowe is not somebody in the corner," she said then. "You engage, and he engages very well.

"He captures you," Martin said.

Bergdahl was a seeker, a hard worker, a man raised and home-schooled in a small town. He could talk to anyone. And he was polite, very polite.

One rainy evening, the sheriff in his Idaho community stopped to offer him a ride. Bergdahl, who was drenched and walking his bike, said he wouldn't want to get the car wet, so no thanks. And he kept walking.

"Kind of tells you a little bit about the person," recalled Walt Femling, who knew Bergdahl through renting him an apartment the sheriff owned.

"I don't usually rent to 20-year-olds," Femling said. He trusted Bergdahl.

"There's not many young people who have the kind manners he has," said neighbor Minna Casser. "He's a gentleman and a sportsman."

The Bergdahl family hasn't spoken much publicly about their son but has fought very hard privately for his release. His father, Robert Bergdahl, has made frequent trips to Washington for behind-the-scenes meetings with U.S. officials.

Bergdahl family refuses to give up hope
New video of missing U.S. soldier

CNN's Ed Lavandera, who has spoken to the Bergdahl family many times, said Robert Bergdahl taught himself the languages and customs of the Afghan region and even grew a beard to show solidarity with his son. He posted a YouTube video in May 2011, and a year later, he spoke at a Memorial Day event in Washington that was attended by more than 100,000 people.

"Bowe, your family has not forgotten you; your hometown has not forgotten you. Your state of Idaho has not forgotten you, and thanks to all of you here today, Washington, D.C., has not forgotten you," Robert Bergdahl told a cheering crowd.

"We love you. We are proud of you. Stay strong. Never give up. We pray for the day that we welcome you home," he said.

The six soldiers at center of Bergdahl debate

CNN's Ed Lavandera, Paul Vercammen, Ashley Fantz and Barbara Starr contributed to this report.

ADVERTISEMENT
Part of complete coverage on
Sgt. Bowe Bergdahl released
updated 8:36 AM EDT, Fri June 13, 2014
It was perhaps the most contentious moment during a House Armed Services Committee hearing filled with them.
updated 9:21 PM EDT, Tue June 10, 2014
Could former U.S. State Department contractor Alan Gross be part of a new prisoner swap?
updated 2:31 PM EDT, Mon June 9, 2014
What happened to six of Bergdahl's platoonmates in the months after he disappeared? Some are blaming their deaths on Bergdahl.
updated 7:43 PM EDT, Thu June 5, 2014
The deaths of six U.S. soldiers in Afghanistan are being tied, directly or indirectly, to the search for Army Sgt. Bowe Bergdahl.
CNN's Jake Tapper's in-depth, three-part documentary, reporting on Bergdahl's time in captivity, life before the Army and what happened the night he disappeared in Afghanistan.
updated 7:49 AM EDT, Thu June 5, 2014
Army Sgt. Bowe Bergdahl's release from Taliban captivity was largely celebrated at first.
updated 1:43 PM EDT, Thu June 5, 2014
Alisa Weinstein was thrilled when she heard about Army Sgt. Bowe Bergdahl's release. She hopes her father will be next.
updated 4:10 PM EDT, Thu June 5, 2014
The recent release of U.S. Army Sgt. Bowe Bergdahl has refocused attention on some of the other Americans held captive in that region.
updated 9:10 AM EDT, Wed June 4, 2014
Bob Bergdahl was startling to see and hear at first: the father had seemingly morphed into an Afghan tribesman, wearing a long beard and even speaking Pashto.
updated 9:43 PM EDT, Fri June 6, 2014
Marcus Luttrell, a fomer Navy SEAL and the author of "Lone Survivor," talks about being trapped behind enemy lines.
updated 5:00 AM EDT, Tue June 3, 2014
Could the exchange of five Taliban prisoners for Army Sgt. Bowe Bergdahl set a precedent for swaps involving other countries holding U.S. military or diplomatic personnel?
updated 7:19 AM EDT, Tue June 3, 2014
President Obama defends his decision to swap imprisoned terrorists for the release of Sgt. Bowe Bergdahl.
updated 8:13 PM EDT, Wed June 4, 2014
Veterans and soldiers call him a deserter whose "selfish act" ended up costing the lives of better men.
updated 7:14 PM EDT, Thu June 5, 2014
People who know Army Sgt. Bowe Bergdahl have described him as a well-rounded, well-grounded and hardworking young man.
updated 7:55 PM EDT, Sat May 31, 2014
Together with the news that Sgt. Bowe Bergdahl was released came word that five detainees at Guantanamo Bay were being transferred to Qatar.
updated 4:48 PM EDT, Wed June 4, 2014
Guantanamo Bay detainees have long been considered America's most dangerous enemies.
updated 6:52 PM EDT, Sat May 31, 2014
The parents of U.S. Army Sergeant Bowe Bergdahl joined President Obama as they await their son's return.
ADVERTISEMENT
ADVERTISEMENT
ADVERTISEMENT
ADVERTISEMENT