Voices across Maryland shouted with joy yesterday for the soldiers who will be coming home. The voices marveled at America's stunningly swift victory and sang the "Star-Spangled Banner." They called for Saddam Hussein's head and whispered that the silencing of the guns had answered their prayers.
The voices also raised questions: Were the troops really going to come home as soon as President Bush says? Was Saddam's war machine really destroyed? What would the next day bring?
And yesterday was also a day for a collective moment of silence, lTC for church bells to ring out, for cars to stream down the highways with lights shining. It was a day when people woke up feeling lighthearted for the first time in months.
In Annapolis, fists were thrust toward the blue sky to signal a message no one could mistake; in Towson, the flags of the United States, Kuwait, Saudi Arabia, Great Britain and Egypt snapped in the breeze outside a gas station; and in Ellicott City, court clerks tearfully sang of patriotism.
At a senior citizens center in Baltimore's Canton neighborhood, 79-year-old Stella Walas turned from her sewing to talk.
"I've been going to Mass every day at St. Casimer's, praying for the war to end. It was my special intention that the war would end," she said. "I said to myself last night, 'Thank God the boys will be coming home safe, and the girls, too.' I had the same feeling I had at the end of the last world war, that it turned out very good."
On a promenade overlooking Charles Street in downtown Baltimore, people gathered by the hundreds in the brisk morning air to rejoice that they were no longer a nation at war.
"We didn't feel cold, there was so much warmth around us," said Mary Lou Papa, a secretary for AEGON USA Inc., the parent company of the Monumental Life Insurance Co. "I'm very hopeful that it's all over, that it's not going to start up again in another little corner."
But in the moment of silence on Charles Street, Mary Lou Hare managed to hear echoes of the Scud missile that killed 28 U.S. soldiers only days earlier, and she shuddered.
"We did what we said we were going to do: liberate Kuwait. We viewed Saddam Hussein as a serious threat to the stability of the Middle East. We've set him back a long way," said Ms. Hare, an accountant at Monumental and the mother of Maryland Air National Guardsman.
While she was proud to be an American, Ms. Hare was reluctant about seeming to glorify war. "We haven't gained anything," she said. "100,000 Iraqis dead. 100 American dead. . . . People's lives are changed."
At Pikesville Senior High School, several students wondered about President Bush's wisdom in going to war rather than allowing the economic sanctions to work.
"The whole war still leaves a poor taste in my mouth," said Jason Carmel, 18, a senior and president of the student government, which is raising money for the United Service Organizations "It just didn't seem warranted. It seemed that almost from the beginning, this is what Bush wanted."
"I detest Saddam," he added quickly. "I detest that man. What he's done to his country is inexcusable. . . . I just question what we've accomplished."
At the Towson gas station flying the national flags of coalition allies, David Johnston knew precisely what the war had accomplished.
"I think it's the best thing George Bush could have ever done. I get tired of all these countries talking about the U.S. and how we're nothing but a paper tiger, and how we talk a good game but we don't do anything. Well, now we finally did something," said the 44-year-old gas station operator.
If many were expressing relief at news that the war had ended, just as many were discussing the fate of Saddam Hussein -- among them, Thelma Harthausen, an employee of a second-hand store.
"Find him and kill him," she said bluntly. "Without that, it's not over and he'll just come right back and bomb us."
"If this man stays in Iraq," said Sam Babalola, a graduate student at the University of Baltimore, "the man lives to fight another day. How is the world community going to make this guy pay for the atrocities...committed?"
While on her way to work yesterday morning, Pat Cieslak learned of the cease-fire from a radio broadcast. And within seconds, Ms. Cieslak heard a Baltimore businessman boasting about the business opportunities that await in war-ravaged Kuwait. She was "appalled."
"I felt anger," said Ms. Cieslak, who works in the marketing department at Monumental Life Insurance. "Here this man is talking about business opportunities, going out to look for money. We haven't even buried the dead people yet."