The beard that Robert Bergdahl grew while his son, army deserter Sergeant Bowe Bergdahl, was in Taliban captivity is to go on permanent display at the Smithsonian Institute, it was announced Tuesday.
The beard became a household name back in the summer of last year when Sergeant Bergdahl was released in exchange for five high-value Taliban terrorists. Mr. Bergdahl senior appeared in the Rose Garden with the beard, his wife and President Obama when the release was announced, and the beard went on to feature prominently in several media interviews.
When his son voluntarily walked off base in Afghanistan in 2009 to go hiking in the Hindu Kush with the Taliban tour guides who would later become his captors, Robert Bergdahl vowed to not shave until his son was released. He also felt that by growing the beard he could try to forge a hairy spiritual connection with his son’s captors.
“I know that long, unkempt beards are a big thing for jihadis,” Mr. Bergdahl told Time magazine back in 2011. “I felt that by growing one, I could become part of some hirsute borg-like consciousness of shared experience — mine of losing my son, and theirs of being terrorists — and that our beards and minds could sort of cosmically become one.”
After finally shaving off his beard last July, Mr. Bergdahl was reluctant to part with the facial adornment which had become such a big part of his life; he had even given it a name, “Cheeshun Wror,” Pashto for “Hairy Brother.” For months it lay in his backyard, until neighbors complained about the stray animals and wildlife that were being attracted to the rotting food particles trapped in its strands.
Mr. Bergdahl and his wife decided to donate the beard to a wildlife refuge in Wisconsin where it was to be used as a nesting ground for migrating herons. But the board of trustees of the refuge changed their minds amidst the controversy over whether Bowe Bergdahl had in fact been captured or had simply deserted his post. At least ten service personnel are said to have died in operations connected with the attempt to retrieve Bergdahl.
A compromise plan for the beard to be installed for use as a giant climbing net in a children’s play area in a low-income suburb of Seattle had to be scrapped after the beard became infested with lice while sitting in a school district warehouse.
That was when the Smithsonian stepped in. A spokesman for the institute, Warren Tarlik, told the Dandy Goat: “We don’t get involved in politics. We feel that the beard is a natural wonder in its own right, a symbol of the ultimate triumph of hope, and a part of America’s rich heritage. It will serve as a lesson for generations to come in empathy, tolerance and intercultural understanding.”
When deloused, the beard will be displayed in the Hall of Historic Facial Hair next to a replica of the beard Abraham Lincoln was wearing when he was assassinated. (The original is a private beard collection in Europe.) The hall also has on display several pairs of sideburns worn by Liberace, as well as the original mustache that Tom Selleck sported during the seventh — and widely considered the best — season of “Magnum P.I.” Visitors can also see diorama showing a CIA hit squad in their Havana safe house in the early 1960s heavily adorned with artificial facial hair and wigs.