One of the nation’s largest organizations for prisoners of war and those missing in action opened its annual gathering in Arlington on Wednesday, and the case of Army Sgt. Bowe Bergdahl was very much on the minds of those in attendance.
For the family members of missing soldiers still searching for answers, the controversial swap of five Taliban leaders for Sgt. Bergdahl, who was held captive for five years in Afghanistan, has reopened old wounds. While many became upset and emotional recalling their lost family members, their tears turned to anger at the mention of Sgt. Bergdahl at the annual meeting of the National League of POW/MIA Families.
“If he did what they say he did, he walked off base, he deserted. He could have stayed,” Mr. Platt continued. “And the trade is totally uncalled for. That was a terrible thing to do, that kind of trade.”
Other grieving family members were frustrated that the government had sacrificed valuable leverage in exchange for Sgt. Bergdahl.
“It made me upset. There’s no excuse for five for one,” said Mathilde Bennett, who attends the annual meeting every year hoping for answers on her brother’s whereabouts. “If it had been one for one that would have been different, but five of the leaders?”
Ms. Bennett and her sister, Bowen Bennett-Johnson, were both distraught by the government’s efforts to obtain Mr. Bergdahl, when their brother has still not been found despite their certainty that the Vietnamese have valuable information.
Their brother, Maj. Thomas Waring Bennett Jr. was shot down on Dec. 22, 1972 in Hanoi, Vietnam, just a few weeks before the United States signed the peace accords to end the fighting.
“He went down within 50 meters of two of his crew members, their remains came back 17 years after the incident, three other crew members came back alive, he never came back,” Ms. Bennett-Johnson said. “The Vietnamese know what happened to him. They either killed him and have his remains or they have him alive.”
While many family members were upset by the news of the prisoner swap, most felt empathy for Sgt. Bergdahl’s parents.
“With all the news that he deserted, I don’t think they should have swapped. I can understand how his parents feel. My heart goes out to them, but the circumstances were really entirely different,” said Patricia Dileski, who’s brother went missing in Vietnam in July of 1968.
Like many of the other meeting attendees, Ms. Dileski still wears the MIA bracelet to honor her brother, Maj. Lionel Parra Jr. as she waits for any new information on his location, or remains. She said she was glad that Sgt. Bergdahl’s parents would no longer have to wait for news of their son.
“We’ve never had any closure. And for that reason I’m glad that he’s back and that his parents have him back. What happens to him now, that’s up to the government to decide,” Ms. Dileski said.
The Bennett sisters also continue to wear MIA bracelets for their brother and are hopeful that they will one day get the same closure the Bergdahl family was given.
“We’ve never given up hope, we will never ever give up hope that we will see our brother again, if not in this life than in the next,” Ms. Bennett-Johnson said. “But we’d love some answers in this life, so we’re going to keep fighting for an accounting.”