For months, every tree in Susie Roeder's Fairfax County neighborhood has been decorated with yellow ribbons, and an American flag has flown at every house.
Susie Roeder considers the ribbons and flags more than symbols of the nation's concern for the 52 American hostages who were freed last week; they are symbols of the unfaltering support of her friends and neighbors during the 14 1/2 months her husband, Air Force Col. David M. Roeder, was held in Tehran.
When David Roeder and the other Americans were taken hostage, Susie Roeder was not entirely unprepared for the frustrations that followed. She had lived through separations before, during her husband's two tours of duty as a fighter pilot in Vietnam.
"There was a carryover from Vietnam in the way we handled our feelings," she said last week soon after the hostages were freed. "(Iran) was a war zone; we knew when David went over there it wasn't a picnic. When he was captured, the whole network of support people that had existed during Vietnam, private and military, came in to help."
Friends in her Fairfax neighborhood near Mount Vernon constantly came by "to look in" on Roeder and her two children.
Officials from Randolph Air Base in Texas gave her advice on what kind of letters to send her husband (mention only inconsequential items, stay away from the heavy stuff -- a suggestion that later brought some complaints from her husband).
A family friend, Air Force Maj. Carey Sapp, who lives across the street, started taking her 15-year-old son Jimmy to baseball games and school. Other neighbors made sure her 8-year-old daughter Dana had plenty of playmates.
Some friends wrote regularly to David Roeder and called his wife as soon as they heard from him.
At the Pentagon, where her husband had been stationed before Tehran, a friend of David Roeder's ordered military staffers to make video tapes of every film of the hostages shown on TV, so Susie Roeder could view them slowly and lovingly. The officer doesn't want his name used because he said his actions "were somewhat outside of regulations."
David Roeder's sister, Merrie Kay Ganyo, describes her sister-in-law as "a good military wife. She is used to these separations."
Added Sapp, "It's been a blessing for all of us to help this way. This is what our community is all about."
Susie Roeder is an intensely private person who had never granted interviews before last week and refused to reveal her age but does say she been married for 19 years to her college sweetheart. She said she tried to "live as normal a life as possible. I kept my job (as a dental assistant), the kids had their school. We traveled a lot, to relatives in Ohio, Michigan, Pennsylvania. I wrote to David every week and received about half a dozen letters back from him."
The Roeders moved to Northern Virginia nine years ago after David Roeder was assigned as a systems specialist with the Joint Chiefs of Staff. When he started work as the assistant air attache in Tehran -- three days before the embassy was seized -- Susie Roeder expected he would be gone for a year.
"But not under those circumstances," she said with grim humor. "He's coming home a little late. But good Lord, he's in the Air Force. When he goes to a war zone you expect to be separated for half of every month he's there."
The only time Roeder gave way to despair was last January when the Iranians announced they would try her husband as a war criminal because he had flown missions in Vietnam.
"I almost lost hope," Susie Roeder said.
"They were still executing people over there. We didn't know what they would do."
But as the nation waited last Tuesday for final word that the hostages were free, Susie Roeder was still holding onto the strength that had helped her make it through the last months. Finally, even she gave way to her emotions.
"I wouldn't believe they'd been released until I heard it from the State Department," she said. "We sure did a lot of screaming when the word came."
Sunday afternoon, David Roeder came home.
A few days before, soon after the former hostages landed in West Germany, Susie Roeder talked to her husband.
It was 2:30 a.m. Jan. 21 and David Roeder had been up for 24 hours.
"The first words he said were, 'It's over!' He's fine, he sounded marvelous, he was eager to talk," Susie Roeder told a reporter.
"He said he was tired, but was on an emotional high. He wanted to know about all the relatives, and how all his friends were doing.
"He said I was 'tough' for having survived the (long wait), but he didn't mean it in a bad way."
Through it all, Susie Roeder says, there were never any tears.
"I haven't done that at all so far. The crying comes later for me, probably when he's downstairs in the den watching TV and I'm upstairs in the kitchen washing dishes, that's when I'll probably go to pieces."