US Afghan Soldier Captured
David Seelig  /  AP
Blaine County Sheriff Walt Femling, left, reads a statement released by the family of captive soldier Pfc. Bowe R. Bergdahl, Monday outside the Wood River Sheriff's office in Hailey, Idaho.
updated 7/20/2009 9:21:37 AM ET 2009-07-20T13:21:37

The parents of a U.S. soldier captured in Afghanistan pleaded for privacy Monday as they coped with what they called an extremely difficult ordeal.

Meanwhile, residents of Hailey, Idaho, tied yellow ribbons on trees along Main Street as a sign of solidarity with the family of Pfc. Bowe R. Bergdahl, who was captured three weeks ago.

Few, however, would speak openly about Bergdahl because of fears that any remarks might hurt the possibility of his safe return.

The family statement came two days after the Taliban released a video of Bergdahl in captivity expressing his fear that he would never see or hug his family again. The footage showed Bergdahl with his head shaved, eating a meal and sitting cross-legged on what appeared to be a bunk.

On Monday, Defense Secretary Robert Gates condemned the video, saying he was disgusted by the exploitation of a prisoner.

"Our commanders are sparing no effort to find this young soldier," Gates said at a Pentagon news conference.

Bergdahl, 23, grew up just outside Hailey, a central Idaho resort town where residents said he was educated at home, danced ballet and rode his bike everywhere in town.

They also called him adventurous and said he joined the Army at least in part because he wanted to learn more about the world. He had been stationed at Fort Richardson, Alaska.

Parents issue statement
Bergdahl's parents, Bob and Jani Bergdahl, live on a stretch of unpaved road west of Hailey.

"We'd like to remind all of you our sole focus is seeing our beloved son Bowe safely home," the family said in the statement read by Blaine County Sheriff Walt Femling. "Please continue to keep Bowe in your thoughts and prayers, and we ask for your continued acceptance of our need for privacy."

The family has refused requests to be interviewed. Femling declined to answer personal questions about Bergdahl.

"They're not going to do anything to jeopardize Bowe," he said of the family.

The circumstances of Bergdahl's capture on June 30 weren't clear.

On July 2, two U.S. officials told The Associated Press the soldier had "just walked off" his base with three Afghans after his shift. The officials spoke on the condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to speak on the record.

On July 6, the Taliban claimed on their Web site that five days earlier "a drunken American soldier had come out of his garrison" and was captured by mujahedeen.

Details of such incidents are routinely held very tightly by the military as it works to retrieve a missing or captured soldier without giving away any information to captors.

Officials with U.S. Central Command in Tampa, Fla., declined to give additional details of his capture.

Bergdahl's family learned of his capture when a member of the Idaho National Guard came to their home in early July. Over the weekend of July 4, four service members who specialize in hostage events visited and told them what their son might be experiencing in captivity as well as what the military was doing to have him released.

Lt. Col. Tim Marsano, a spokesman for the Idaho National Guard, said the tone of the meeting was optimistic.

"They were here to help prepare the family for his return," Marsano said.

No interviews with fellow soldiers
Military officials in Afghanistan refused a request from the AP to interview fellow soldiers from Bergdahl's Army unit. Spokesman Navy Lt. Robert Carr in Kabul said the military was controlling the flow of information so nothing could be used against the other American forces or Bergdahl.

Carr, stationed at the International Security Assistance Force headquarters, said every effort was being made to find and return Bergdahl.

"We condemn the Taliban in using him as a propaganda tool," Carr said, referring to a video issued by the Taliban. "We are almost positive that everything they have him saying is forced."

Not all family members of captured soldiers stay quiet about such situations.

Keith Maupin, whose son was captured in Iraq in April 2004, was vocal during the four years his 20-year-old son Pfc. Matt Maupin was missing before his body was found.

"I know if they stay quiet, they're not going to get any information," Maupin told the AP from his home in Ohio. "They've got to stay on top of it."

Some say the discretion exhibited in Hailey fits with the region's history of respecting the privacy of part-time celebrity visitors and residents such as Arnold Schwarzenegger, Tom Hanks, Bruce Willis and Demi Moore

"It's just the way we are," said Hailey Chamber of Commerce Director Jim Spinelli.

On Monday, three women carrying hundreds of yellow ribbons declined to answer questions or give their full names.

One woman who identified herself only as "Leigh" said she had known Bowe Bergdahl for years.

"We just want him home," she said.

Image: Zaney's River Street Coffee House
John Miller  /  AP
Before his enlisted, Pfc. Bowe R. Bergdahl worked as a barista at Zaney's River Street Coffee House in Hailey, Idaho. On July 19, on the counter, is a small sign asking patrons to keep the 23-year-old Taliban captive in their thoughts.
Sue Martin, owner of Zaney's River Street Coffee House where Bergdahl poured espressos before enlisting in the Army in 2008, had installed a sign on the front counter urging people to keep "Our friend who has been captured in Afghanistan" in their thoughts and prayers.

But she didn't use his name and later removed the sign, partly out of concern that the Bergdahls were against it.

‘Get Bowe Back’
It was only after getting their permission Sunday that Martin spoke about the young man, whom she said shared friendly banter with regulars there for their morning coffee.

Martin has also returned the sign to the front counter — this time with Bergdahl's full name — along with a large yellow placard taped to the front window that reads "Get Bowe Back."

"It was in light of concern for Bowe's well-being," Martin said. "If the military wasn't releasing his name, we didn't feel we should be releasing it either."

More on: Pfc. Bowe R. Bergdahl

Copyright 2009 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

Video: Soldier's hometown stayed mum

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