Freed soldier's hometown cancels celebration

Signs of support for Bowe Bergdahl are displayed outside Zaney's coffee shop in Hailey, Idaho. REUTERS/Patrick Sweeney/Files
Signs of support for Bowe Bergdahl are displayed outside Zaney's coffee shop in Hailey, Idaho. REUTERS/Patrick Sweeney/Files
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 Afghanistan.

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.

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