YESTERDAY, BARELY a dozen hours after President Bush declared a cease-fire, 15-year-old Adam Beach was already mulling over what he would say to his own children someday when they ask: What was it like to live through the Persian Gulf war?

"I'll tell them it was a tough experience to go through. I'll tell them I respected the people who went over. . . . I'll tell them how good our air attack was and how short the ground war lasted, and I'll hTC tell them I was relieved and happy when it was over," said the 9th-grader at Hammond High School in Columbia.

Although the war lasted only 42 days, its impact is destined to be felt for much longer, particularly as it shapes American values and beliefs. While relief and happiness were the moods for the day, many people reflected on how the war has taught them lessons and changed their lives.

"I have a greater sense of pride in being an American," said Roger Plunkett, assistant principal of Hammond. "At the same time, this war has unified our school and people in the country. Things can only get better as a result of what's happened. Despite the recession, there's a very promising future."

While some basked in post-war optimism, others like the Rev. Maurice T. Wilson, pastor of St. John A. M. E Church in West Baltimore, were more hesitant about the future.

"The country was starving for some kind of boost," he said. "There's a feeling that we're back on top now, but I'm not sure how long that's going to last."

For Adam, though, it was simply a day to savor how his life could now return to blissful normalcy. He could stop worrying that his brother, a member of the ROTC, would be sent to fight. In world history class, discussions about France could replace constant talk of the Middle East. And he could finally enjoy a good night's sleep, uninterrupted by thoughts of war and an unyielding urge to stay tuned to the TV.

Yet, he understood that Operation Desert Storm would shape history -- the world's and his own. "It made me think about death and how soon it can happen," he said. "I'm a little bit more mature than I was."

For many adults, the performance of President Bush and the military has made a lasting impression. So much so, in fact, that Sharon Mond is now giving serious thought to changing her party affiliation from Democrat to Republican.

"I'm not a war person. I don't like fighting, but the people who were there fought for something good and right and just," said Ms. Mond, 35, of Randallstown.

And what was once an alphabet soup of military terms has now become commonplace, even among preschoolers.

"The term 'Scud' is even part of their vocabulary now," said Gerry Feild, director of ECLC Learning Center in Columbia. "Who would have heard of that before?"

If the country received an education in how battles are fought, Sandra Stanley, a sociologist at Towson State University who specializes in the military, learned that being an intellectual doesn't make you immune to the emotional impact of war.

Having this academic experience didn't insulate me from having a personal response," said Dr. Stanley. "I, like other people, found myself feeling very anxious and emotional -- almost being immobilized at the beginning. That surprised me."

For Mr. Plunkett, daily prayer became of greater importance. Today, the war has helped strengthen his faith in God. "I felt that those people who didn't have faith in God were really at a loss," he said.

Other educators were encouraged at efforts made to educate and calm America's children during this crisis.

"I learned that everyone really seems to care about children in this ssue," Ms. Feild said. "Being in a profession of child care, children are very, very important to me. It's a pleasure to see that members of the military and the government are concerned, too."

She also hoped that the end of the war would signal an end to the aggressive play that had become common among children at the school. For the past several weeks, they have shown great interest in war games, G.I. Joe-type dolls and making buildings from toy blocks, only then to bomb them.

"I hope this doesn't teach them that it's OK to solve a conflict by violent means," she said. "I think the biggest or the most important thing they could have learned is a pretty good understanding of geography. Early on, the youngsters thought this was taking place in Ocean City because of the sand."

Yet, others question how long the post-war enthusiasm will last and whether people really ever learn lessons from war.

While public opinion researchers saw the war as having a positive effect on the country's morale, they said fervent pro-American attitudes are likely to wane in coming months.

"Whenever you have something like this, you have this rally-around-the-flag effect," said John Barry, associate director of the Roper Center for Public Opinion Research at the University of Connecticut. "Is Bush's 87 percent approval rating going to fall? The answer is obviously yes. . . . There's going to be a honeymoon for a while, but it will erode over time."

One clergyman, who asked not to be identified, took a more pessimistic view.

"I don't know if anything is going to change," he said. "Has human nature really changed? I don't know. We'll go back to our normal routines. In a sense, we're interested in our own small sphere. Most of us don't care what goes on in Cambodia or Afghanistan or Israel."

But don't try selling that idea to Kim Ruud. Even though the war has ended, the 14-year-old doesn't plan to remove the American flag from outside her Columbia home or the flag patch from her backpack.

To her, they have become emblems of the one simple lesson she said she learned from the war: "Don't mess with the U.S."

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