Before the sun was up, while a gleaming jet carrying the 13 freed American hostages sped over the Atlantic toward Washington, Laura Mae Reeder was rising, fighting a jittery stomach with antacid tablets and waiting for her son to be home.
"When I see him, that's when I'll know he's okay," Reeder said a few hours later.
And at 10 a.m., she got her wish as her son, Marine Sgt. William E. Quarles, and 12 other Americans stepped from a U.S. Air Force jet that carried them home from Wiesbaden, West Germany, for Thanksgiving Day.
Scores of friends and family members cheered as Lloyd Rollins, a 15-year Foreign Service officer from Alexandria, led seven other black men and five white women from the plane to the tarmac below at Andrews Air Force Base. After being held captive in the U.S. Embassy in Tehran for more than two weeks, they were now home -- free.
Secretary of State Cyrus R. Vance, speaking to family members and the Americans at Andrews, said, "We are deeply thankful that you are home. But our thanksgiving is tempered, our relief that you are safe is muted, by our concern for your colleagues who remain."
"It's terrific to be home," Rollins said. "I thank all you people for the support you gave us and we are going to get the rest of them home, too."
Standing in front of the Rollins home in Alexandria later in the day, Mrs. Rollins, a slender woman wearing a chocolate brown dress with a slit skirt and gold jewlery, signed with relief;
"I thank God," she said. "Tell everyone please to keep praying." After spending two hours with her husband, Mrs. Rollins said, "He looks good, he sounds good. I just put him right to bed and told him to relax. I bought a small turkey but he hasn't decided whether he want to eat here, or eat out or just get away from it all for a while."
At Quarles' home in a public housing project in Northeast Washington, the kitchen table was adorned with turkey, bams, home-baked rolls, sweet potato and coconut cream pies, bowls of steaming collard greens and a special item -- southern fried chicken. Not a Thanksgiving tradition, but "William's favorite," said a sister.
"I get the impression we were doing everything back here we could," Quarles said, fingering his marine cap and looking somber and tense. "I hope and pray they (the remaining hostages) can get out very soon.
"I missed the Marine Ball in Tehran and I thought I had missed Thanksgiving too. We planned the ball for Nov. 10 but we couldn't have it because we were tied up."
The tall, lanky Quarles, 23, waded through a crowd of reporters in his tiny living room, which was decorated with crepe paper streamers and a had lettered sign that read, "Welcome Home William."
"He's going to have Thanksgiving at home, a soul food Thanksgiving," said Quarles' aunt, Yvonne Temoney.
And Quarles, fresh from an ordeal that had caught the attention of the world, could think of nothing better. "My mom's home cooking. That's what I haven't had for a long time," he said with relish.
With the same sort of fervor, Temoney tried to express the family's feelings on this special Thanksgiving.
"It's a feeling, you know, you know you don't even know how to say it. It's just a feeling of joy."
Through all this, Marie Quarles, the religious grandmother who raised Quarles from childhood, clutched his arm. And Quarles' mother, Laura Mae Reeder, just beamed.
Quarles joined the marines in 1976 while on the road selling encylopedias in North Carolina. He has been stationed in Geneva, Switzerland, and since last fall in Tehran, according to his mother.
"This is our best Thanksgiving ever," she said yesterday. "We have a lot to be thankful for, a lot."
Judith Rollins, Llyoud Rollins' wife, said yesterday she had lain awake Wednesday night on the eve of the hostages' return.
As she lay in bed, she heard the gutters lining her roof rattle. The family dog began to bark.
"I thought it was a burgular," she said, "but I was too tired to get up and look."
When she did open her front door yesterday morning, her mouth fell agape. Neighbors had rigged up surprise messages on white construction paper along the roof.
"WELCOME HOME, LLOYD," the signs read.
Seeing Mrs. Rollins on the porch of the family's sprawling suburban rambler, neighbors began to shout, "Hi Judy! So glad he's home."
Mrs. Rollins said her husband "just wants to get with his family again. Both of his daughters had their ears pierced and one has some new tap- dancing shoes and they are so eager to show him," she said. Patti Rollins is 16 and Terri is 13.
The Rollinses are a career foreigh service family and have often lived abroad. "We were in Libya after the revolution," Mrs. Rollins said. "We decided no to join Lloyd in Iran because of a lack of American schools (after the revolution that ousted the shah)."
Mrs. Rollins said she would not have many apprehensions about her husband accepting another foreign assignment.
Ten hostages, including Rollins, returned to Andrews Air Force Base at 6 p.m. yesterday for a traditional Thanksgiving dinner buffet at the officer's club, according to Air Force Tech. Sgt. Phil Stanton, a spokesman for the air base.
Quarles spent the day "trying to catch up with the family," his mother said last night. "He hasn't even had time to eat yet. He's too busy talking."
Two hostages from out of town apparently returned directly home rather than join in the air base buffet, Stanton said.
Scattered throughout the Washington area yesterday, American flags were flying at half staff to show support for the hostages -- both those who returned yesterday and the 49 Americans who are still being held.
WMAL radio personality Tom Gauger urged his listeners to fly their flags at half staff after an Arlington woman called to tell him that she had noticed a number of flags at half staff in the county.