June 16, 2014 12:00 PM

Sgt. Bowe Bergdahl, America’s lone prisoner of the war in Afghanistan, looked “dazed, unsure what was happening” on the morning of May 31, when his Taliban captors of five years turned him over to an American Special Operations unit in the country’s eastern region, says a source familiar with the mission. After hearing a U.S. soldier tell him, “We’ve been looking for you a long time,” Bergdahl collapsed in tears. As the gaunt, scraggly-bearded man limped forward, “it was like watching a cave dweller walk into the sunlight,” the source tells PEOPLE. When Bergdahl, missing since June 30, 2009, appeared before Americans observing on monitors elsewhere in Afghanistan, “you could feel the energy in the room,” says the source. “It was electric.”

The release of Bergdahl, 28, a home-schooled idealist who studied ballet and joined the Army after the French Foreign Legion refused to take him, comes after his parents, Bob and Jani, waged a long campaign. But while champagne corks popped in their hometown of Hailey, Idaho, questions arose about the exchange of Bergdahl for five Taliban detainees at Guantánamo Bay, Cuba. Obama Administration officials say Bergdahl’s declining health necessitated a circumvention of the requirement that Congress be notified before the Taliban commanders were released to Qatar. Also at issue: how Bergdahl came to be a prisoner of war in the first place. An expert marksman, he had enlisted in the Army hoping to help the Afghan people, according to his dad. But a second source with knowledge of Bergdahl’s situation says that before disappearing, “Bowe was disillusioned. He talked about wanting to go off into the mountains of Afghanistan.”

None of that matters to his ecstatic parents. “I’m so looking forward … to giving you a great big bear hug,” Jani told her son at a press conference in Boise, Idaho, as Bowe was flown to a military hospital in Germany. He is expected to reunite with his family at a medical facility in Texas. Bergdahl has had “extreme difficulty” speaking English, says his father, who adds, “We’re still in recovery mode ourselves.”

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