EAST WENATCHEE, Wash. - A teacher who vowed nearly 10 years ago not to cut his beard until Osama bin Laden was captured or proven dead said he cried Sunday night upon hearing of the terrorist's death.
"I spent my first five minutes crying and then I couldn't get it off fast enough," said Gary Weddle, 50, who lives in East Wenatchee but teaches middle school science in Ephrata.
Weddle has wanted to cut his beard for years. His wife, Donita, has wanted him to cut it, too. But for Weddle a vow is a vow and so he hadn't even trimmed it until Sunday night.
Weddle was a substitute teacher in Wenatchee when the infamous al-Qaeda terrorist attack occurred on the World Trade Center and Pentagon on Sept. 11, 2001, killing 3,000 Americans. Weddle was so caught up in the news that he neglected to shave. A week or so later, he vowed not to shave until bin Laden was captured or proven dead. He figured it would just be a month or two.
At the start of each school year, Weddle told his students the beard was a reminder of the attack. He frequently said he didn't understand how anyone could use the name of his God to justify murder.
The story of Weddle's beard, broke by this reporter in 2002, received national and international coverage when reprised on the fifth anniversary of 911 in 2006.
Weddle figured he'd still be wearing the beard this coming Sept. 11 on the 10th anniversary.
He was working in his garden at home Sunday evening when a teaching colleague from Ephrata, Missy Beierman, called at 7:48 p.m. and told him bin Laden was dead.
The Weddles were skeptical. Over the years, people had called saying the same thing, as jokes. They turned on their television and flipped through the channels. All were buzzing about bin Laden's death.
Weddle wasted no time finding scissors and razors.
He cut the beard and was shaving the stubble even before President Obama addressed the nation about bin Laden's demise.
Friends and neighbors celebrated with him, watching him cut his beard. He got a little bloodied, having become somewhat inexperienced in shaving. He expressed amazement at feel of his face.
Weddle was 41 when he made his vow. The Weddle's daughter was 13 and their twin daughters were 12. Now they're 23 and 22.
"I wanted him to get rid of it, but it was his vow," Donita said. "I respected his passion and keeping a vow. I was willing to look past the beard because I love him."
"He looks 10 years younger," she said. "It's a very happy moment for us. It's a very happy moment for the whole nation."
Dan Wheat writes for the Salem-based Capital Press, sister paper to The Daily Astorian.