June 03--On Saturday, a longtime U.S. prisoner of war was finally freed.
Sgt. Bowe Bergdahl was released after nearly five years of captivity by the Taliban in exchange for five detainees at the U.S. military prison in Guantanamo Bay, Cuba. Begdahl is currently in stable condition at a U.S. military hospital in Landstuhl, Germany.
Eric Cantu, curator of G.I. Joe's Military Living History Museum, said he had been fighting for four years to get Bergdahl back with veteran groups dedicated toward raising awareness for prisoners of war and soldiers missing in action.
"When I heard the news, it was great to me," Cantu said. "I had been lobbying in D.C. with Rolling Thunder and met Bowe's parents a few years ago, discussing government issues. There were several organizations selling bracelets, which helped pay for Bowe's parents to lobby to the government to bring him home."
One of the groups, Beau's Army, sold POW bracelets with Bergdahl's name on them, and had awareness rallies. Monica Cash, the POW-MIA chairwoman for North Carolina'sAmerican Legion, is a member of Beau's Army and has a Facebook page named "Four Years Too Long" to spread the word online.
"We educated people about prisoners of war and asked them to help out, pray and call their senators," Cash said. "Every year on Beau's birthday (March 28) and capture day (June 30), we would get a permit, posters and signs and have a rally. On Rolling Thunder Weekend on Memorial Day in D.C., Florida Congressman Jeff Miller rode with us. I handed him a bracelet and asked him to do what he could to bring Beau home and he shook my hand and said, 'We're working on it.' I listened, but had been told that many times.
"When word got around that Beau was in American hands, I was shocked, excited, happy and was crying. It felt like the hard work paid off and I like to think Beau's Army made an impact in the thoughts and minds of government. We weren't going to forget him and we kept fighting until he came home."
Goldsboro resident Bob Geist, who spent eight years in the Army from 1959-67 and 15 years in the National Guard from 1977-92, heard about Beau being a POW in 2012 and acted quickly toward spreading the word toward legislators.
"When I found out about Beau, my wife and I sat down and came up with ideas," Geist said. "We decided to call senators and congressmen in all 50 states, went to the library and found out how to do that. We made plenty of phone calls. ... Soon after that, a congressman from Wyoming called back, said thanks and told me, 'Now everyone knows about Bowe.' I had people I knew in Michigan, all the way to Texas, who formed little teams to spread the word.
"I'm absolutely thrilled he's coming home and we prayed and prayed for him."
Carol Geist, Bob's wife of 53 years, said she motivated her husband to help spread the word about Bowe, along with members of the military branches.
"The Navy, Air Force and Army all joined together helping, as well as others in the state and the nation," she said. "There were a lot of people dedicated in bringing Bowe home."
Junious Smith III can be reached at 252-559-1077 and Junious.Smith@Kinston.com. Follow him on Twitter at @JuniousSmithIII.
(c)2014 The Free Press (Kinston, N.C.)
Visit The Free Press (Kinston, N.C.) at www.kinston.com
Distributed by MCT Information Services