Veterans gather to support POW

YOUNGSTOWN – On Friday, U.S. Army Sgt. Bowe Bergdahl marked his fifth birthday in captivity. Friday afternoon, a group of veterans and community members gathered in Youngstown to show that Bergdahl is not forgotten.

Disabled American Veteran chapters from Mahoning County, Warren and Sharon, Pa., gathered in the square in downtown Youngstown for a prisoner of war rally with a simple, but complicated, message: “Bring Back Bowe.”

Bergdahl was captured by Taliban forces on June 30, 2009, near the town of Yahya Khel in Afghanistan. Officials believe he is still alive and being held by the terrorist group in Pakistan. He is listed as the only prisoner of war from the War on Terror military campaign.

The rally drew veterans from foreign conflicts, including the Vietnam War and Operation Desert Storm, as well as politicians and legislators such as Youngstown Mayor John McNally and Ohio Rep. Bob Hagan, D-Youngstown.

Bergdahl, 28, is from Sun Valley, Idaho. His plight hit close to home for Mahoning Valley veterans, including Leo Connelly Jr. of the Mahoning County Veterans Commission.

Connelly, a Vietnam War veteran, said that it is “unacceptable” that Bergdahl has had to spend the prime of his life in Taliban custody.

“Today is called the ‘un-birthday’ party for Bowe, and what we’re doing is we’re here to try to make people this is aware that this is his fifth birthday (in custody) and we’re trying to get him home,” Connelly said.

“It’s unacceptable that this has been going on for five years, and there is no reason he should not be home. We should be making an attempt to get him home,” he said.

A number of veterans group leaders spoke to those gathered in attendance, including Mercer County, Pa., Vietnam Era Veterans Association Chairman Wayne Stratos.

Stratos praised the government’s ability to accomplish the incredible, while simultaneously questioning its efforts in bringing home the estimated 83,000 known American POWs currently missing from conflicts since World War II.

With the U.S. winding down its efforts in Afghanistan, Stratos asked if Bergdahl will be left behind as a casualty of the war.

“We can find and capture Saddam Hussein, Navy Seals can be sent to recapture the Maersk Alabama, and Navy Seals went in and Osama bin Laden became history,” Stratos said. “We are basically out of Iraq and will be out of Afghanistan by the end of the year, and I ask you, what will be the fate of Sgt. Bowe Bergdahl?”