By Laura L. Myers
SEATTLE (Reuters) - A Washington state man who vowed after the September 11 attacks not to shave until Osama bin Laden was captured or killed, finally cut off his beard when he heard the news the al Qaeda leader was dead.
Gary Weddle, a 50-year-old middle school teacher whose beard had reached some 15 inches long, said he began cutting his facial hair for the first time in nearly a decade on Sunday night.
"I'm still very emotional about this, about all of the death and destruction," Weddle told Reuters in an interview. "I'm finally getting closure on this."
Weddle, who lives in East Wenatchee, Washington, about 150 miles east of Seattle, said he determined not to shave or trim his beard in the days following September 11, 2001 after reading that in Afghanistan, Taliban leaders would execute men for shaving their beards.
"I'm a God-fearing man," Weddle said, recalling how horrified he was "knowing that thousands of people were getting crushed" during the attacks.
"I didn't want to forget. I wasn't going to forget," he said.
Weddle was honored on Monday by Jill Palmquist, principal of the middle school where he teaches, who announced to students over the loudspeaker that Weddle had kept his promise to honor the lives lost.
"For 3,454 days, Mr. Weddle kept his word, faithful and true," Palmquist told students. "He endured ridicule, jokes and no doubt people telling him that his was a lost cause."
Weddle acknowledged that as his beard grew during the last decade it became something of an albatross, getting snarled when he shoveled snow or played basketball.
He was outside tending to his garden when a teacher friend called on Sunday evening with the news of bin Laden's death.
Weddle said at first he thought the news was a joke, but after shedding tears for a few minutes, quickly began shedding his facial hair, snipping it with scissors, then shaving with a razor.
Neighbors flocked to watch and record the event.
Wife Donita, happy to have a younger-looking husband, now "is just full of smiles," Weddle said, and the wad of cut hair sealed in a plastic bag.
"No one really won," he said. "Everyone's been hurt in all of this."
(Editing by Dan Whitcomb and Greg McCune)