After 3,454 days, a middle school teacher in Ephrata, Washington, is finally free to shave a beard he has been growing since Sept. 11, 2001, in the name of freedom.
Gary Weddle, 50, was so affected by the 9/11 attacks on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon that he stopped shaving.
"When the twin towers came down, I was horrified and I was glued to that television," Weddle told KOMO News during an interview in June 2003. "And [I] realized that not only was I not taking showers, I wasn't shaving."
Weddle says he was
so engrossed in the national tragedy that he hardly noticed his unkempt face. However, after a few days of growth, Weddle made a vow not to shave until terrorist leader Osama bin Laden was captured or proven dead.
He originally figured that would happen in a month or two, but as the months and years passed by, Weddle started looking more like a member of ZZ Top or one of the guys on the Smith Brothers Cough Drops box. Some of the mangy strands measured 14 inches.
Neither Weddle nor his wife, Donita, liked his hirsute look one bit, but he figured a promise is a promise and he stuck to his guns.
"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."
Luckily, she doesn't have to look past it anymore.
As of 7:48 p.m. PST Sunday night, Weddle's whiskers are a memory.
He was working in his garden at home Sunday evening when he heard from a colleague the news that bin Laden was dead. At first, he was skeptical, since other folks had made similar claims as jokes over the past 9-and-a-half years.
However, once Weddle got confirmation, he wasted no time finding scissors and razors. He had shaved his beard even before President Obama addressed the nation about bin Laden's demise.
Friends and neighbors celebrated with him. They watched as he got a little bloodied, having become somewhat inexperienced in shaving over the past decade. Once the beard was gone, Weddle expressed amazement at the feel of his face.
Previously, at the start of each school year, Weddle had told his students the beard was a reminder of the attacks, frequently saying he didn't understand how anyone could use the name of his God to justify murder.
Now, the Seattle Post-Intelligencer reports that Weddle's dedication has attracted acclaim from his fellow teachers. School principal Jill Palmquist honored him on Monday, telling students they should admire the teacher for sticking to his vow not to shave.
But while bin Laden's death marks the end of an era for Weddle, his method of burial creates a dilemma for the teacher.
Weddle had originally planned to shave the beard and send it to bin Laden. Now that bin Laden's body has been buried at sea, it's unclear what he will do with the trimmings.