Signs of support for Bowe Bergdahl are displayed outside
Zaney's coffee shop in Hailey, Idaho. REUTERS/Patrick
The hometown of US Army Sergeant Bowe Bergdahl, feeling a
backlash over allegations that he was a deserter, has cancelled
a rally planned for later this month celebrating his release
from five years of Taliban captivity, officials say.
Heather Dawson, the city administrator of Hailey, Idaho, told
Reuters that town officials called off the June 28 event at
the request of organizers because the town "will be unable to
safely manage the number of people expected."
The decision came as the community came under mounting
pressure to cancel the rally in the face of rising anger,
expressed in emails and phone calls directed at city
officials and businesses, over claims by Bergdahl's onetime
Army comrades that he had deliberately abandoned his post in
Stefanie O'Neill, an organizer of the welcome-home rally
originally set for June 28, had insisted as late as Tuesday
that the celebration would go on as planned. But on
Wednesday, she and her mother, Debbie, a co-organizer of the
event, paid a visit to the Army sergeant's parents, Bob and
Jani Bergdahl, to ask whether they wanted the celebration to
proceed as planned.
A short time later came the city's announcement that the
event was being canceled.
"National media attention on Hailey and this event has led
many across the nation to believe that the event is intended
to be a military parade," the town said in a statement.
"There is broad interest in this topic, as evidenced by the
approximate 100 correspondences per day received by the city
of Hailey this week."
The statement went on to say organizers expected a dramatic
increase in attendance "by people who both want to support or
protest against it," adding that in "the interest of public
safety, the event will be canceled."
Some have asserted that the massive search for Bergdahl after
he went missing in Afghanistan on June 30, 2009, may have
cost the lives of up to six fellow soldiers.
The US military has said the circumstances under which
Bergdahl disappeared have yet to be fully investigated,
although Pentagon officials have indicated Bergdahl is
unlikely to face charges regardless of what the Army learns
of his capture because he has suffered enough.
The Army sergeant was flown over the weekend to a military
hospital in Germany for a full physical and mental
evaluation, and it was not clear whether he would return to
Idaho by the end of the month.