When retired Air Force Col. Lee Ellis heard about Army Sgt. Bowe Bergdahl's release as prisoner of war Saturday, he knew what challenges Bergdahl might face. That's because he was a prisoner of war himself, held by North Vietnam for five and half years during the Vietnam War with Senator John McCain.
"The first thing I thought about was my parents and what they went through during my five and a half years. So I can really relate to Bowe's parents and their excitement in having him coming home," Ellis said. "I think for Bowe, the thing that I realized once I got out, was that my normal was no longer the real normal. What I'd been living in was a really unusual world and really not the typical world that you would experience here in America."
In retrospect, Ellis said he didn't realize this fast enough.
"I really had expectations that everybody back home was going to be perfect because that's the way I had been remembering them. The country was perfect, my family was perfect, and in reality, nobody was perfect."
He said for Bergdahl, coming home with an attitude of grace might be helpful, as this took Ellis years to process.
Those who are eager to welcome him should let him know that he's "valued and important," Ellis said.
"Right now, immediately, he won't know what he needs, I think. He'll be so overwhelmed with so much coming at him. Just to know they're there and when he's ready to talk, or wants to talk or needs to talk -- that they're there and they'll just listen. I think that would be a great."
What helped for Ellis was never giving up hope.
"I think you always survive everything one day at a time. You keep walking forward until you come out the other side. Hope is so important."
He said Bergdahl will also have to find people who understand and can relate to what he's been through.
"Life is not easy for any of us, and he's going to have to work through those experiences also. And that's where he's going to need help, and I would say he's probably going to need some counseling. That would be good for him and helping him because he's probably going to have some degree of PTSD also."
While Ellis was held captive in Vietnam with others, Bergdahl was a lone prisoner, and this could factor into his recovery, Ellis said.
"We had a couple of guys that were in China, held for more than five years and several were in solitary confinement for several years, but they did know there was some support around. I think for Bowe, it's going to be much more difficult because he was so alone, and knowing who to trust, who not to trust and just feeling safe and letting his hair down a little bit - I do think it will complicate it significantly."
While Ellis said he doesn't know enough about the controversy over whether the U.S. government should have swapped prisoners, he expressed his concern with the issues of negotiating with terrorists and the law.
"I'm certainly happy that Bowe's home, but I'm also a little bit concerned because actions send messages around the world, and this message will have to wait and see how it plays out."