Questions surrounding soldier's disappearance hit home for area veterans

Claims that Bowe Bergdahl deserted his post don't sit well with vets

By Marques White - Reporter

JACKSONVILLE BEACH, Fla. - Army Sgt. Bowe Bergdahl was held captive by the Taliban in Afghanistan for nearly five years and was released May 31 in exchange for five Taliban members, who were being held at the U.S. prison at Guantanamo Bay in Cuba.

Many felt a sense of pride at Bergdahl's release, but some are saying he should not be called a hero.

Published accounts of the circumstances surrounding Bergdahl's disappearance have varied widely. Some have claimed that he left his military post without permission.

Some veterans in the Jacksonville area said if there's any truth to that assertion, Bergdahl, 28, should be punished.

"They shouldn't walk away at all," said retired Capt. Mike Keating of the U.S. Marines. "They should be punished (if they do). I mean anyone who does something like that to our country has very little interest in all the sacrifices made to make this a free country.

"If he's going to betray us to other nations, then he belongs against the wall like they used to do during World War II."

At least six soldiers were killed in searches for Bergdahl, and many soldiers in his platoon said attacks seemed to increase in the days and weeks following his disappearance.

Local veterans differed on whether the decision to trade the Taliban members for Bergdahl was wise.

"I think it was a poor exchange," said Tom Kelley, who served in Vietnam. "Five basically bad terrorists for one person."

Former Marine Sgt. Eric Hardebeck disagreed.

"It doesn't matter if it's one or 500," he said. "You always go and try to bring your people out."

Veterans at the American Legion 129 in Jacksonville Beach said they're waiting to learn more about Bergdahl and what happened in 2009.

Following his release, Bergdahl was transferred to a military hospital in Germany.

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