Monday, December 15, 2003

Saddam nabbed 

At home, some celebrate, some hold breath

11:17 PM CST on Sunday, December 14, 2003

By BILL MARVEL / The Dallas Morning News

Just a click of the remote control, and it was a whole new day.

With a Cowboys-Redskins game in prospect, we awoke, brewed our morning coffee, dressed for church or shopping and turned on our TV sets. And there he was, bearded and unkempt, looking for all the world like some street person hauled out from under a bridge, blinking in the morning light. Many viewers may not even have realized at first who it was they were looking at.

In that first moment there was for many of us a sense of dislocation. The face on the screen didn't match the memory. Who did they catch?

The war in Iraq has not given Americans many reasons to cheer lately. The car bombs, the roadside booby traps: It has seemed every day there is fresh reason to mourn. Will we ever get out of Iraq?

But on Sunday, some Americans broke out the flags and hung them from porches and front-yard flagpoles. The news was announced from pulpits. Prayers of thanksgiving were offered. Grocery clerks asked customers, "Have you heard?" Folks thought of loved ones in harm's way thousands of miles from home, and now – perhaps – a few steps closer to safety. There was a collective exhalation of relief.

But there were also those who held their breath. This was not the end of the war, they pointed out. Not a time to drive through the streets honking horns, throwing confetti. Not a time for celebrating sailors to kiss nurses in Times Square.

At a time like this, what is the mood of the country? Perhaps there is no single mood, only the individual feelings and reactions of Americans as they went about their (almost) ordinary Sunday of church, football and shopping – and thinking about that haggard face seen on the morning TV. ON THE HOME FRONT

'They pulled him out of a hole!'

Jeanne Jacobs awoke 4:30 a.m., unable to sleep, unable to figure out why. Something told the 59-year-old Garland mother to turn on the television. As soon as she saw the news she suddenly knew why.
She called her daughter, then she called her son. Navy Petty Officer Quentin Gray, 27, recently returned from several months' combat alongside the U.S. Marines in Iraq with what his mother calls a case of post-traumatic stress syndrome.

He's staying with friends near the Camp Pendleton Marine base in San Diego, where it was barely 2:30 a.m. But for Ms. Jacobs, the news couldn't wait.

"I said, 'Missy, tell Quentin they got the bastard! Just like the snake he is, they pulled him out of a hole!'

"This is the best Christmas already," she says. "I've got two darling grandbabies, my son is home from Iraq, and Saddam Hussein has been captured! I'm giddy. I just think it's wonderful. I think it'll be a turning point, I really do."

Dennis Patterson, 49, heard the news at 5:45 a.m., when his mother called. He stayed on the phone and called his son, Luke, just back from a tour of duty in Iraq.

"He was incredulous, he was blown away." says the elder Mr. Patterson. His son, Army Specialist Luke Patterson, 21, a graduate of Plano East Senior High School, immediately rounded up his buddies in DarmstadtÖ, Germany, and headed to the nearest Burger King, where CNN was already on and the room was packed.

A short time later Luke called dad to report on the troops' reaction. "He said that when Bremer [American Ambassador L. Paul Bremer III] came out and announced, 'We got him,' the room erupted with everyone cheering and celebrating. Luke said he felt like not just him but everyone in the military had been given a big Christmas present. He said, 'Now we have the guy who's responsible for them being sent halfway around the world, for having to endure sandstorms and 135-degree heat.' "

For David and Barbara Rozier of Katy, who spent years raising their kids in DeSoto, Sunday's news felt like long-awaited vindication – not just for them and the son who died, but for President Bush as well.

Their son, Army 1st Lt. Jonathan Rozier, 25, was guarding a Baghdad checkpoint July 19 when he was killed by a rocket-propelled grenade. He left behind a wife and a son, Justin, who's only now beginning to walk.

Sunday morning, his mom and dad had all but tired themselves out, sharing phone time with North Texas relatives.

"We are excited," says Mr. Rozier, 49. But "We're careful not to be overly excited. We know there's a lot of work to be done. We know it's not the end of the road. But it's a major milestone and maybe even a turning point."

Mr. Rozier says he was happy for and "extremely proud" for the president. "Despite all the naysayers and criticism he's been receiving, particularly from the left, he stuck to his calling," says Mr. Rozier, who shares a real-estate business with his wife.

Not every parent of a fallen Iraq war veteran shares his enthusiasm. Lufkin mother Rena Mathis, 47, is coping with the "non-combat-related" death of her son, Army Spc. Joseph D. Suell, 24, in Todjie, Iraq, on June 16.

"I don't blame Hussein," she says. "I blame Bush. He had no business sending them boys over there. Not only Joseph but all of them."

For the family of the one-time high school basketball star with loads of promise, Spc. Suell's death is a mystery that may never be solved. The death notice says only "investigation pending." His widow, Rebecca Suell, 22, said recently that a base chaplain at Fort Sill, Okla., and two officers told her that husband committed suicide – a conclusion she and her mother-in-law dispute. He was a chronic asthmatic, which, his mother says, should have kept him out of Iraq anyway.

Ms. Mathis says her son's death feels like an "open wound" and one that Saddam Hussein's capture will never heal. When her husband woke her Sunday with the news, her reaction was immediate. " 'It ain't over with,' I said. Just 'cause they caught him; it still ain't over with."


'How interesting the way God works'

"We pray five times a day, the same prayers," said Abdul-Malik Hamidulla, operations manager of the Dallas Central Mosque. "But after we pray, people typically make personal supplication for peace in the world. We like to see peace everywhere, and certainly hope this will bring us one step closer to the days we can bring the boys home."
The Rev. David McKinley, teaching pastor of Prestonwood Baptist Church, stuck to his prepared sermon during the 9:15 a.m. service and preached about the Christmas carol "Silent Night." Then he spoke of Saddam Hussein's capture.

He described waking up at 6:30 a.m., holding a cup of coffee and turning on the television. "There on the bottom of the screen I read those words, 'Saddam Hussein is captured.' "

The congregation of a several thousand immediately broke into applause.

The congregation at Oak Cliff Bible Fellowship also broke into applause when the Rev. Anthony Evans announced the news.

"Across the road was one of Saddam Hussein's palaces," Mr. Evans pointed out, "but in fact he was found in a dirt hole.

"How interesting the way God works."


'I've been waiting for this day my entire life'

At the Coit Road office of the Kurdish Human Rights Watch, a couple hundred jubilant Iraqi-Americans danced in the parking lot, waving Kurdish and American flags, and burning pictures of their former leader.
Dallas is home to several thousand Iraqi-Americans, most of whom fled the country during Saddam Hussein's rule and settled in Texas as political refugees. Arabs and Kurds, Sunnis and Shiites, they all seemed to be celebrating Sunday, gathering for parties at homes or community centers.

Men, women and children held hands, bouncing their shoulders in a traditional dance while a band keened the Kurdish words for "Freedom, Freedom, Democracy." Old men in black and white turbans and baggy pants trilled with joy and shouted "Piruzby!" – congratulations – to each other.

"It's unbelievable, unbelievable," said Zuhair Almissouri, KHRW program director. "I've been waiting for this day my entire life." He moved to America from the northern city of Dohuk in 1996 after three sisters died during the Kurdish struggle to break away from Mr. Hussein's regime.

The phone calls began early in the morning, he said, and by afternoon he still hadn't time for a sip of water or breakfast. "I am full, even if I didn't eat for two or three days more, I am full with happiness!"

When Saddam Hussein's armies invaded Kuwait in 1990, Abdul Akil and his family escaped, making the dangerous trek across Iraq, Syria and Jordan before landing safely in Chicago, and eventually Richardson.

Now, 53, he is owner of Grand Café American and Mediterranean Grill, where customers gathered Sunday to feast and celebrate. "Café busy with Arab people," he says, "all very happy because this stupid man is over."

"I am very happy, of course, very happy to be getting this news." Nevertheless, he is pessimistic about Iraq and its prospects. "If you read the history of Iraq, you'll understand it's bloody. Iraq has never lived in peace. Iraq needs somebody who will walk straight, but nobody could walk straight with Saddam around."


'Have you heard? Have you heard?'

Pete Hoag, manager of the Webb Forest Newsstand, opened his doors for customers at 6:30 Sunday morning. "At 7 a.m. it started," he says. "They started coming in, going on, 'Have you heard? Have you heard?' Most of them heard about it – I love this – on The Ticket, the sports talk show."
Mr. Hoag's customers love sports and politics, in that order. It's hard to walk into the place and not get into a discussion about one or the other.

About Saddam's capture, he says, "They're all very optimistic, they're all feeling very vindicated. Everybody loves the way he looks so haggard and distraught. A lot say since they found him in that hole, they wished they'd just covered it up and left."

By mid-morning the parking lot at the Jewish Community Center of Greater Dallas was Sunday-full, mostly the cars of folks using the center's gym or attending meetings. In the coffee lounge one TV was showing an episode of Rugrats, the other was set to Fox News.

Marc Sheff, 44, was the only person watching the newscast. He had learned of Saddam's capture from two men talking in the sauna.

Mr. Sheff sells lighting supplies, a job that puts him on airplanes a lot. He doesn't figure Sunday's news will affect his work much,

"It would mean more if bin Laden were captured," he says.

At the Chuck E. Cheese on Arlington's Fielder Road, where several kids' birthday parties were in noisy progress Sunday afternoon, news of Saddam's capture worked its way into conversations between choruses of "Happy Birthday" and photo ops with the Chuck E. Cheese mascot.

"Haven't you heard?" Barbara Germany asked another mother attending a 6-year-old's birthday party.

Word of the capture arrived via a news alert in her email, says Ms. Germany, 44. "I think it's great. We needed some good news."

Monitoring a table full of 6-year-olds, Stephen Moore of Arlington says the first thought that popped into his mind at the news was, "Finally."

"I knew this was coming at some point," he says. "And I'm glad they got him alive.'' But Mr. Moore, 42, doubts the capture will bring an early end to the bloodshed.

"Oh no! This is an ongoing war."


'People are sick of the war'

Waxing his wife's Suburban under an Oak Tree on Flag Pole Hill Park near White Rock Lake, retired Air Force Tech. Sgt. George Bowe paused to consider whether the capture would lead to reprisals against American troops in Iraq.
"I don't think it will, even if there's a short spasm of violence," says the 54-year-old Vietnam veteran. Over time, he says, Iraqis may finally take control of their own country. "I suspect we'll be there a few more years, but be able to get out eventually.

"The next challenge is for us to capture Osama, but I don't think he's going to go as easily. I think he'll kill himself before he lets us take him alive. Saddam was used to letting other people do his dirty work.

Also enjoying Sunday's warm spell at Flag Pole Hill was Jay Brewer, 41, a Dallas hairdresser. "As a single event [the capture of Saddam] won't turn tide, it won't increase President Bush's popularity over all," he says. "People are sick of the war.

"I think this is just going to make room for someone else to come up under him. But maybe we'll like this person. But of course we used to like Saddam, too, until he killed 300,00 people."

Even so, Mr. Brewer says, "I think the political cartoon this year will be GB as Santa Claus, with Saddam all wrapped up in the back of the sleigh."


'He looked like a caged animal'

The streets of Detroit saw dancing too. Arabs also celebrate in snowy suburban streets, banging drums and waving Iraqi and American flags.
In homes and stores everywhere, people gathered around TV sets and shook their heads as they watched footage of the scruffy, bearded man some thought would never be caught.

Kristin Williams, who lives in suburban New Albany, Ohio, found it fitting that a man she considers a coward was caught hiding in a hole.

"Still, it's sad to see someone in that state of affairs. He looked like a caged animal," said Ms. Williams, 36. "Going to church, he was one of the people I prayed for, too."


'This day carries a special meaning'

At the New York Jets-Pittsburgh Steelers football game President Bush's announcement was broadcast over loudspeakers to prolonged cheers.
In Washington, the capture was the talk of the town, not the late-season clash between the Cowboys and Redskins, traditional rivals.

With 1 minute 56 seconds to go in the first half, announcers Dick Stockton and Daryl "Moose" Johnston (who once played for the Cowboys) took time after the two-minute warning to note the day's events.

"This day carries a special meaning," said Mr. Stockton.

And Brad Sham, voice of the Cowboys on KLUV-FM (98.7) observed during the game that one sideline reporter, in an effort to stay warm in the freezing rain, was hiding in a "spider hole."


'He's the big cheese we were after'

At 8:20 Sunday morning, an group of about 130 Army soldiers left Dallas/Fort Worth International Airport for Iraq.
About six hours later, another group of soldiers arrived after a 30-hour flight with stops in Kuwait, Germany, and Atlanta, home for 15 days of rest and relaxation. Some of them left the airport for Fort Hood in Killeen; others caught connecting flights.

Wearing desert camouflage, the arriving troops filed into the terminal just after 3 p.m. to cheers from a crowd of loved ones. Earlier in the day as the soldiers' charted flight approached U.S. soil Sunday, the civilian pilot came on the intercom to deliver the news about Saddam Hussein. Many of the passengers clapped and a few cheered.

Capt. Kenneth Sanders, nurse a registered in Baqubah, Iraq with the 204th Forward Support Battalion – part of the 4th Infantry Division that captured Mr. Hussein – said he was proud of the men who found the former Iraqi leader. He said the news gave some a "sense of accomplishment," and he was more hopeful that the capture would help make the country safer.

"He's the big cheese we were after," said Capt. Sanders, 49, just reunited with his wife, Penny, after more than eight months away. "Maybe things can quiet down now over there."

Another member of the 4th Infantry Division, Capt. Steve Heringer, 28, said he hoped the capture would reassure Iraqis that Mr. Hussein wouldn't return to power. "Time will tell," whether the attacks wane, he said. "It's definitely going to make a different in the hearts and minds of the Iraqi people."

He said the news on the plane "was like a Christmas president for everybody."

Contributing to this report were staff writers Tyra Damm, David Tarrant, Michael Precker, Jeff Weiss, Michael Granberry, Karen Thomas, Scott Farwell, Gretel Kovach, Ed Timms and The Associated Press.
DallasNews.com | Dallas-Fort Worth | Local News


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