Relatives see the good news but have trouble believing it Families react to end of fighting with mixed emotions. PERSIAN GULF SHOWDOWN


President Bush was on Norma Haire's television saying the war was over, but she couldn't believe it. She had been anxious for too long about her son in the Persian Gulf region.

"The prayers and the trusting in the Lord, I have been so caught up in it," said Haire, whose son checks airplanes before takeoff from an aircraft carrier in the Red Sea. "It's hard to move back into thinking the joy of it really being over."

When the president's speech was over, the living room of Haire's Dundalk rowhouse erupted in instant analysis. Saddam Hussein wouldn't give up, she said. "I can't believe it's the end of him."

Her ex-husband, Ron, who had come down from Pennsylvania to visit their daughter, figured Saddam couldn't stop without at least firing off a chemical weapon. "His gas missiles, he has a bunch of them yet," he said.

And the Haires' daughter Gail said she could only feel "50-50" about a peace that didn't seem real yet.

The Haires were part of a support group for military families that quickly dispersed from their meeting last night when word came that Bush would make an announcement.

Laughter had punctuated the meeting at the Red House Run Elementary School library, as the families prepared for peace, for celebrations with their homecoming soldiers. Many were unsure how to feel because they still were dealing with the shock of the ground war that began over the weekend.

Kimberly Bond, whose husband is a sergeant in the 2nd Marine Division, had reached a turning point just before the ground offensive began. On the advice of a psychological counselor who spoke to a previous group meeting, she switched off her television last Saturday and went out with her in-laws to a shrimp feast. It was her first night out since the war began in January.

"First time I hadn't turned on the news before I went to bed," she said. "Turned it on Sunday morning and the ground war had started. Kind of gives you a sinking feeling."

That feeling was only slowly coming unstuck last night, despite the news the war might be ending. "I'm not sure how to feel yet," she said. "I don't know if I can trust what's happening or not."

Bond took comfort in planning with the support group for a welcome-home party for her husband and the soldiers of the other families. But, she said, "I guess it's not going to be over until I see him."

Torn between a need to celebrate soon and a desire to wait for all their family members to come home first, the group agreed to hold two parties: one in six months for the soldiers who have come home by then, and another a year from now when all of them should have arrived.

Across the table from her at the school library, Amy Greif of Holland Hills said the ground war seemed "too easy" to be over.

As she talked, the support group leader broke in with the announcement that one member's son had written home to be careful opening any package returned from the gulf. It might be rigged with a mail bomb.

"Well, there's something else to worry about," Greif said.

When the ground war started, she had been bombarded by the first images of it. She happened to be shopping in a Circuit City store last Saturday when walls of televisions flickered with the news. Greif stood and stared for about half an hour before she could leave.

"I was in shock," she said. "I got it on all sides of me."

As the fighting progressed this week, she tried to sort out conflicting news reports of where her husband's 2nd Marine Division was headed.

As the invasion turned to a rout, Greif's spirits rose but she was "not all the way relaxed yet," she said. "I'm getting good at mixed feelings."

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