I first wrote about Bowe Bergdahl three years ago. He could be your son or mine. Perhaps you’ve seen a photo of the 27-year-old Idaho native online or posted on Facebook. Bergdahl, an American soldier, was taken prisoner by the Taliban in Afghanistan in June 2009. He was a 23-year-old private first class when he went missing.
There he remains, his life hanging by a thread that can be cut by his captors at any time. He is a young man paying a big price for his service to our country. Over the years, the Taliban has released five different videos showing Bowe in captivity. Several prisoner exchange deals have been negotiated and dropped.
The haunting image of Bowe brings to mind all those who serve in the military in the far corners of the world. Today there are some 164,000 American servicemen and women in 150 different countries. What they all have in common is being away — away from home, especially through the holiday season, when the heart pulls us toward family and friends.
Some things don’t change. For as long as I can remember, there have been troops fighting wars overseas, and their sacrifice has always seemed greatest during the holidays. Growing up, I watched Bob Hope and his troupe of entertainers move their road show, from the bases of World War II to bases in Vietnam. The photos of those guys in the front row — the ones in wheelchairs — always grabbed the heart. As the cameras scanned the audiences, the smiling and laughing faces of the boys — and they were boys — struck a poignant counterpoint to the deadly serious business taking place on battlefields nearby.
Today we have troops still fighting in Afghanistan. Syria is torn by civil war, and some leaders here urge military intervention by the U.S. The facts of today’s conflicts are troubling, positive outcomes are doubtful, the corruption of governments like the one in Afghanistan compound the problems, yet we press on. Every week, bombs explode, troops get caught in firefights and young men and women die. They are called to serve and they do, in a gesture that goes beyond politics and the particulars of this or any war.