The ex-military guys hanging out at the American Legion Post on James Island can't understand the math of trading five ranking terrorists for one Army soldier suspected of walking into the arms of the Taliban.

"One American or 20 Americans, we don't deal with terrorists," said West Ashley resident John Meyer, who served four years in the Air Force, including a year of reconnaissance duty in the Vietnam jungle.

Others said they wanted a full investigation by the Pentagon as soon as possible, to determine whether Army Sgt. Bowe Bergdahl is a hero or something else.

Bergdahl reportedly walked away from his post in eastern Afghanistan five years ago carrying only a compass and a bottle of water, leaving his weapon behind.

"If he's warranted punitive action, I hope they give it to him," said former Navy engineering yeoman Bob Low, who also served during Vietnam.

"If he's innocent, more power to him."

Around Charleston, Bergdahl's case was the topic of conversation for thousands of military retirees. Some said they've never heard of a war-time prisoner swap like it, rattling off the names of Iraqi war prisoner Jessica Lynch and the photographs of coalition flyers captured during Operation Desert Storm, as examples of POWs who should be recognized for performing their duty admirably.

They said Bergdahl's strange release - and the politics that went with swapping him for five ranking Taliban from the prison at Guantanamo Bay - was something new.

"They should have left him there," said Russ Johnson, of James Island, an ex-Navy corpsman who spent part of Tuesday sipping his beer at the James Island Veterans of Foreign Wars near the intersection of Camp and Folly roads. "He deserted his post."

Where the case goes now is unclear. South Carolina's two U.S. senators, Republicans Lindsey Graham and Tim Scott, have both been publicly critical of the White House, with Graham saying the Obama administration released "the Taliban Dream Team." He's called for a Senate inquiry.

A request for comment on the case from U.S. Rep. Jim Clyburn, D-S.C., the Obama administration's closest ally in South Carolina, was not honored.

"Not commenting on it right now," his spokeswoman said in an email.

The Bergdahl story also drifted lightly into South Carolina Tuesday after The Associated Press reported he once crewed a sailboat trip from here to California. He is originally from Hailey, Idaho.

Meanwhile, a local attorney experienced with military justice said if a criminal investigation is called into Bergdahl's actions and his conduct while being held, it would begin in Afghanistan and originate from the unit he was assigned to.

North Charleston lawyer Bill Clifford, a retired Navy Judge Advocate General's Corps officer, also said the case would probably draw several different layers of checks to cover military and legal thoroughness. Still, Clifford said Bergdahl's release has become so controversial in recent days that no one in the military is going to speak out of turn until the dust settles somewhat.

"Right now this has become such a political football that this kid is holed up some place keeping his mouth shut," he said.

Back at the American Legion, Meyer, the Air Force veteran, said that given what he's heard in media reports so far about Bergdahl's capture, he would have been OK with Bergdahl staying in captivity for the long term, including until the end of his natural days.

"He wouldn't be the first; they died at Bataan and Corregidor," he said, of other Americans captured on the battlefield and declared prisoners.

Reach Schuyler Kropf at 937-5551.