Published December 15, 2003
FORT HOOD, Texas – An electronic pawn shop sign near the home of the Army's 4th Infantry Division (search) said it all Sunday: "SADDAM HUSSEIN CAPTURED. THANK YOU TO ALL OUR TROOPS!!! THANK YOU!"
Hours earlier, some 600 soldiers with the 4th Infantry Division and special forces in Iraq had raided a farm outside Saddam's hometown in Tikrit. They found the deposed Iraqi leader bedraggled and hiding in a hole covered by carpet beside a two-room shack, said Maj. Gen. Raymond Odierno (search), the division commander.
"It's a great day for the United States -- for a little while," said Fred Ohnesorge (search), manager of the Action Pawn in Killeen, just outside Fort Hood. "I think it just helps the morale for the while."
As word of Saddam's capture spread through this small town 75 miles north of Austin, motorists honked car horns and shouted out their windows in celebration.
"I hope they shoot the son-of-a-gun, I really do," said John D. Walker, 44, whose wife, Valerie, is an Army cook serving in Iraq not far from where Saddam was found.
Lt. Gen. Thomas F. Metz, commander of III Corps, said the capture was a "tremendous reward" for soldiers of the 4th Infantry, who were "sidelined" during the Iraq invasion because Turkey refused to allow ground troops to enter Iraq from its border.
"There was always that thought that maybe he's there and maybe the 4th Infantry Division will get him, and that came true," Metz said in a news conference at Fort Hood. "They've gotten their Christmas bonus in the sense that they've got a tremendous victory and a boost to their morale."
Army Spc. Dale Cowell, 23, who lost a cousin in the war and is set to deploy to Iraq in January, said he hopes having Saddam in custody makes the area safer for the U.S. military.
"We know we've got to go over there. We're ready. We feel that we can go over there and knock out the mission, whatever President Bush wants us to do," Cowell said.
Another group of soldiers was aboard a plane flying home from duty in Iraq when an air traffic controller recognized their flight as military and radioed the pilot. The pilot woke his 180 weary 101st Airborne Division passengers with the news they had been waiting months to hear.
"The entire plane went nuts," said Master Sgt. Kelly Tyler, speaking by telephone after the plane landed at Fort Campbell, Ky. "Everybody cheered. The ones who were asleep woke up and cheered."
The news was even more emotional for Nancili Mata, whose husband, Chief Warrant Officer Johnny Villareal Mata, was among those killed in a March 23 ambush during which six other soldiers were taken prisoner.
Mata's mother-in-law "told me to turn on the TV and before I even turned it on I started crying. I don't know why," she told the El Paso [Texas] Times. "I guess all the sacrifices made by our soldiers are not in vain."
Down the road from Fort Campbell, at G's Pancake House in Clarksville, Tenn., worker Bill Cox said customers were upbeat with the much-needed good news in a community hard hit by 59 soldier deaths during the war in Iraq.
"Everybody's smiling today when you mention Saddam," Cox said.
In Raleigh, N.C., Desiree Adkins, whose husband, James, is headed to Iraq in February with his Army National Guard unit, called the news "a mixed blessing."
"I hope it may mean the time my husband is in Iraq will be less," she said. "But I think it's going to be a rough couple of months. I hope it means the end, but I don't think it will be smooth like I want it to be."
George Heath, a Fort Campbell spokesman, said the capture is a terrific Christmas present for soldiers.
"The only thing that it would take to make Christmas better for the American soldier is if we could find Osama bin Laden," he said. "That would be a great Christmas present."