Published December 15, 2003
CHICAGO – Football fans in New Jersey let out cheers. Kurds celebrated at a parking lot in Dallas. Wives of soldiers serving overseas prayed their long separations might soon draw to an end.
Across the nation, news of the capture of Saddam Hussein (search) was greeted with whoops, hollers and smiles.
"Merry Christmas. This is a nice Christmas — we got him," said Naomi Jipping, a teacher in Columbus, Ohio, who digested the information over coffee at a 24-hour diner. "A lot of people aren't going to be in fear anymore."
People gathered around televisions in homes and stores, shaking their heads and smiling as they watched footage of the scruffy, bearded man some thought would never be caught.
Kristin Williams, who lives in suburban New Albany, Ohio (search), said she found it fitting that a man she considers a coward was found hiding in a hole.
"Still, it's sad to see someone in that state of affairs. He looked like a caged animal," said Williams, 36. "Going to church, he was one of the people I prayed for, too."
The news was particularly sweet for Iraqi Americans (search).
"You know what they should do? Put a statue of Bush," said Habib Iradily, a 37-year-old truck driver from Detroit who fled Iraq to Saudi Arabia in 1991.
A cheer went up at the New York Jets-Pittsburgh Steelers football game after part of President Bush's announcement was broadcast over the stadium loudspeakers. In Dearborn, Mich., a heavily Arab suburb of Detroit, people danced in the snowy streets, banging drums and waving Iraqi and American flags.
Kurds celebrated at a strip mall parking lot in Dallas, joyous over the capture but with no pity for the man they blame for hundreds of thousands of Kurdish deaths. Children stomped a flaming picture of the former dictator.
"We want to make him suffer the way he made us suffer," shouted 12-year-old Rujin Naji, wearing a scarf bearing the red, white and green of her people's flag.
Hussein's capture was the topic of conversation for almost everyone who walked into the Conoco convenience store Sunday in Valentine, Neb., clerk Wanda Purdum said.
"They seem to be excited about it," the 51-year-old Purdum said. "I'm happy about it. I hope it'll help our troops get home a little sooner. I think we need to get things wrapped up."
Adrienne Pittard said she had a hunch something was up. Her husband, a member of the Fort Hood-based 4th Infantry Division, whose soldiers captured Saddam at an Iraqi farmhouse, had told her there was going to be "some big operation" during the weekend.
"I was just really excited because now that they got him maybe my husband will be coming home a little sooner," said Pittard, who has been living with her parents in Southport, N.C., while her husband, Zeke Pittard, is overseas.
"Finally, the real work in Iraq can begin," she said.
Some, though, were wondering how successful that work will be.
"He's caught, but what do we do now?" asked Lamont Frazier, a 30-year-old from Boston who speculated that the capture would win President Bush "an extra million votes."
Others doubted the capture would end the violent opposition that has led to the deaths of at least 315 U.S. soldiers since Bush declared major combat over on May 1.
"They're in a war," Diane Rice, a 37-year-old Chicagoan, said of the Iraqi insurgents. "They're fighting for something. His capture isn't going to keep them from fighting."
Still, there was jubilation among some patrons of Carl's Tavern, a popular Marine hangout in the San Diego suburb of Vista, near Camp Pendleton, Calif.
"I woke up this morning and thought it was a great day for America," said James Harper, 56, a retired Navy master chief from Oceanside, Calif.
Marine Sgt. Major Jim Booker, 41, of Vista, said he was in disbelief when the news flashed on television. He still expected to return to Iraq for his second tour of duty next month.
"I'm interested to see what the average is Iraqi is thinking," Booker said. "Will they roll over and accept the fact that he's gone?"