Today's piece is a little long but it is a truthful account in as much as all of the information I pass along here has either been corroborated or proven out thus far. I hope you find it insightful.
I think it was 1978 or pretty close to that. I was an impressionable teenager in the Order of DeMolay, a masonic organization that transforms young DeMolay disciples into adult Freemasons. The organization endorses ethical and moralistic conduct within it's membership which is a main ingredient in this story. I would have been 16 or 17 during that particular year which is entirely dependent on my rapidly deteriorating memory.
The DeMolays employ a type of hierarchical structure wherein members in good standing, those with experience obtain leadership positions within the organization. I forget the names of all of those positions now except the top rung. The top position within the Order of DeMolay is called "Master Councilor."
Ron was our Master Councilor. Ron's induction a year prior had been pretty seamless and everyone seemed to like Ron back then. I did too. I considered Ron among my best friends. He had worked his way through the ranks of DeMolay to secure that position.
To this day, I'm not sure what happened. All I can tell you is that Ron started using and selling drugs during the year that he served as Master Councilor. He went from a happy, good grades with good attendance sort of kid- to a sullen, lying, skipping school sort of kid. Ron worked nights watering the public golf course and we talked a lot back then but our friendship was waning. I could tell things were changing. I was not part of the drug culture and Ron had less time for his old friends as he acquired new ones. He angered a lot of people including his DeMolay brothers- people who he simply abandoned for new friends, the friends he was smoking dope with.
So as Ron's year as Master Councilor was coming to a close it was time for the annual changing of the guard. The pinnacle of that ceremony occurs when a new Master Councilor is elected and the past Master Councilor is thanked for his service and steps down. There had always been a huge round of applause when that event took place but this time around nobody uttered a peep. In a room of 30 or so people- not one person clapped or applauded for Ron. It was as though he had been shunned and excommunicated. It was one of the most awkward moments of my life. I didn't have the guts to clap for my friend either. When Ron needed a friend the most- not one person in that room stepped up. Crickets.
I have regretted that moment for 40 years. But I have not forgotten it.
So it was that I spent 25 years in small town America working my way through the ranks of our police department.
Throughout most of those years, every other day, the same UPS employee would show up. I would bullshit with him, exchange information, and he would tell me about his family. That's how it is in small town America. I have no idea how many years we knew each other, somewhere around 10 or 15. Bob was a genuinely nice guy and I actually looked forward to visiting with him.
Then one July day in 2009, I got a call from an old friend asking me if I knew a guy named Bowe Bergdahl. My friend who has C.I.A. and United Nations/Afgani experience told me that Bergdahl had walked away from his post and base in Afghanistan and had been captured by the Taliban. Most importantly my friend said, Bergdahl had left a note behind essentially renouncing his citizenship. He had become friends with the exterior perimeter (and unscreened) Afghani guards- a force that had been infiltrated by the Taliban. My friend assured me that the military was well aware of this and so were the soldiers on that base. I was, as usual, sworn to secrecy before the phone call ended.
My heart sank. That was Bob's son.
I had been retired about 18 months when this ordeal began. I have not seen Bowe's father Bob since then- except on television or while reading articles about Bowe. Bob retired at some point after I did.
In the propaganda emitting and bullshit filtering world that has become our way of life- it was never disclosed to the American public that Bowe had simply walked away on his own accord. They call that desertion which is a serious offense. Instead, it was delivered to the American public as though Bergdahl had been forcefully taken and captured. I of course knew otherwise and I trusted my source.
Had Bowe been killed as many suspected he would be- the real story of Bowe's desertion might very well have been covered up just like other embarrassing events (Pat Tillman) that the government likes to cover up.
In another heart breaking twist, I began to read accounts of soldiers being shot and killed or wounded- soldiers deployed to search for Bowe. Recent accounts have not proven this out.
So as the years rolled by, I silently prayed that Bowe would not be killed or beheaded in some savage middle eastern way. I prayed that some terrible footage would not find it's way to my friend Bob who is a kind and decent man.
People in our small town rallied for Bowe. The strung up yellow ribbons at a local coffee shop hoping for his safe return.
After nearly 5 years of captivity, President Obama arranged for the exchange of 5 very dangerous Taliban members held at Guantanamo Bay for Bowe Bergdahl. The public was still not aware of the details surrounding Bowe's capture. I suspected, and this is simply an opinion, that President Obama who had campaigned on promises of closing the Guantanamo prison was trying to move some of those prisoners out. In a way I thought, this was a win-win for Obama.
At any rate, Bowe was released in late May of 2014. Around that time, perhaps a little before, the truth about Bowe's desertion started leaking out.
I was in a unique position to watch this ordeal having been apprised of the truth from start to finish. There were plans in my little town for a huge celebration which had city officials preparing for the joyous moment when Bowe would return home a war hero. And then...
The truth that Bowe had actually been a deserter eventually reached the mainstream media. It was everywhere. People began scrambling for cover. City officials, facing a public outcry which included people all over America, cancelled their last minute plans for a public celebration. Most people were shocked and embarrassed. In that prolonged and seemingly eternal moment when you have been convicted by the court of public opinion, where there is always guilt and shaming by association, where friends become scant, we wait for the whole sordid affair of Bowe Bergdahl to reach a conclusion.
Indeed it has been a shit show- complete with angry and upset veterans, lawyers concocting half baked defenses, and a new President who calls Bergdahl a "dirty, rotten traitor." A President who obtained deferments to avoid service himself. If you want to read an interesting account of this mess, wiki seems to be a good place to start with it's long running chronology despite some "facts" which remain up in the air. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Bowe_Bergdahl
So what did Ron teach me and what does that have to do with Bowe Bergdahl?
Ron taught me that we must never let one bad moment define our lives. Sometimes we get lucky and face no consequences for our mistakes. Sometimes, in the case of Bowe Bergdahl, we get to spend years in captivity under severe conditions. Perhaps a few more years in limbo with a healthy dose of public ridicule and scorn, while the best and the brightest try to determine a fitting outcome for you which might involve even more captivity.
Ron taught me that bad people get a few things right and that good people get a few things wrong. People cannot be defined by bad decisions- or we would all find ourselves on the scrap heap of humanity. I learned that if there is one ounce of mercy, compassion, and forgiveness in people- that sometimes people are just too cowardly to bring it when it's needed the most. It is easier to stand silent, refusing to call attention to yourself because you are afraid of the scorn and ridicule it might bring. That happens when a guy you used to call "friend" scans the room for just one friendly face and finds none.
It's got to be lonely being Bowe Bergdahl right now- thinking the world hates you.
I don't. I pray they find a little mercy and a little forgiveness for a young, impressionable kid that made one bad decision which subsequently turned into a national nightmare. I hope they find the courage to go easy on Bowe, who was just a kid for chrissakes, and give him some shot at a normal life. Mostly, I think beyond his decade of captivity and the stigma that will surely follow him the rest of his life, that's punishment enough. We shall soon see what the deciders decide.
Be someone's friend when they desperately need you. Stand up and give the finger to a leering world. It ain't all about you. That's what Ron taught me.