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May 31. 2014 7:37PM

POW in Afghanistan remembered at vigils in Meredith, Manchester

For the nearly five years that Army Sgt. Bowe Bergdahl has been held prisoner in Afghanistan, the Idaho soldier has been remembered at POW/MIA vigils in Meredith and Manchester.

News that Bergdahl had been freed and was on his way home was greeted with euphoria Saturday by those who have kept that vigil.

"We have some very happy, happy hearts among the veterans community," said Bob Jones of Meredith, vice president of the Northeast POW/MIA Network.

Jones is an organizer of the annual POW/MIA vigil and Freedom Ride held in Meredith during Bike Week. Ever since Bergdahl was taken prisoner five years ago this month, organizers have used the event to call attention to his captivity.

This year's 26th annual vigil, which is on Thursday, June 19, at 7 p.m. in Hesky Park, will be a celebration, Jones said. "We'll be able to say, 'Welcome home, Sgt. Bowe Bergdahl.'"

Artie Atkinson of Nashua, also a member of the Northeast POW/MIA Network, said the call from a Sunday News reporter with news of Bergdahl's release made his day.

"I'm going to go out and jump around the street," said Atkinson. "It's fantastic."

A POW/MIA vigil in Manchester on Wednesday, held in Veterans Park at 7 p.m., will be dedicated to Bergdahl.

Bob Williams of Manchester, a Vietnam veteran who has organized the monthly vigil for 11 years, was ecstatic at news of Bergdahl's release.

"I'm jumping for joy," he said. "We got a live one home. It makes my day - and then some."

The names of New Hampshire troops missing in Vietnam and Korea are read at every vigil, and Bergdahl's name was always read as well, he said.

For those in New Hampshire who have kept faith for nearly five years, Bergdahl's safe return is a rare victory in what can feel like a lonely fight.

"We kept fighting for it, and we got him," Williams said. "He's coming home walking."

And Jones said the soldier's return has a special meaning for Vietnam veterans who have devoted themselves for many years to the POW/MIA cause. "It will give them the opportunity to say welcome home to this POW," he said.

The Washington Post reported that the Taliban agreed to free Bergdahl in exchange for the release of five detainees from the U.S. military prison in Guantanamo, Cuba, into the custody of authorities in Qatar. Officials from that nation reportedly brokered the deal.

The newspaper reported that Bergdahl, 28, was picked up Saturday by Special Forces soldiers who told him they had been searching for him "for a long time."

In a statement, Sen. Jeanne Shaheen, D-NH, expressed gratitude for Bergdahl's safe return.

"His release is an incredible testament to our military and our country's commitment to leaving no one behind on the battlefield," she said. "I am looking forward to him being reunited with his family soon and am thankful for his service, his sacrifice, and his courage."

Gov. Maggie Hassan issued the following statement: "Sergeant Bergdahl's release is incredibly heartening news, and I am sure his family and loved ones are overcome with joy that they will soon be reunited. His dedication and resilience represent the very best of all our service members, and I join all Americans in thanking him for his service, bravery and sacrifice."


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