Even on that long-awaited day of vast national relief with the hostages finally out of Iran, many Americans were downright angry.
Across the land, long-silent bells tolled, yellow banners seemed to sprout everywhere, heads bowed in prayer and champagne corks careened off celebrants in a hundred town squares.
Religious leaders called it a time of great joy and a new beginning in America's relations with other nations.
But beneath it all, many Americans were muttering.
They were angry over the cumulative frustration of 444 days of waiting. And they also were angry that those perplexing Iranians seemed to have a need to end it with one last insult by depriving Jimmy Carter of his final tribute as president, taking the edge off Ronald Reagan's inaugural and wrenching America's gut one more time by timing release within minutes after America's governmental transition.
Not all were as hostile as James M. Iques, a burly New Orleans truck driver, who growled: "Now we outht to go over there kick their ass." And not all were as aggressive as Norma Dyess, a 26-Year-old from Baton Rouge, La., who said: "We ought to wipe Iran off the face of the earth. Let's bomb them."
Others just shrugged in a mix of relief and despair over an end to almost 15 months of televised national humiliation.
"It just seemed as though Iran wanted to make as much confusion as possible," said Lillian Shirley, who played the chimes at Beth Eden Baptist Church in Waltham, Mass., every noon for 444 days. "Ronald Reagan didn't get the full attention he might have had and I'm sorry Jimmy Carter could not make the announcement."
Lois Hudson, an English professor at the University of Washington in Seattle, figured the Iranians were "trying to discombobulate both men as much as they could. I think they've toyed with us for 14 months. The result was no victory for Carter or Reagan. That's what they [the Iranians] wanted and I feel they certainly were pretty nasty."
Meanwhile, however, communities, hostage families and other citizens went on with plans for celebrations that had slipped hour by hour in the longest three days of the hostage crisis since the American embassy in Tehran was overrun on Nov. 4, 1979.
In New York harbor, the statue of Liberty, the symbolic first image of America for many travelers, was floodlit for the first time since the Bicentennial. As the hostages left Iranian airspace in two Algerian 727s, the statue was bathed inlight from 96 1,000-watt bulbs.
In Independence, Ohio, a replica of the Liberty Bell was swathed in symbolic yellow and began tolling for the first time in 444 days. In Chalmette, La., moments after hostages' takeoff, a model of the historic bell was rung 60 times -- once for each hostage and once each for the eight men killed in an aborted rescue attempt last April.
In Washington, the national Christmas tree, dressed with yellow bows, burst into light with the first official word that the hostages were free.Except for a brief show in memory of the hostages, the tree had been dark for two christmases.
In Mesa, Ariz., junior high school students arrived at classes dressed in yellow in honor of the hostages. A local resident, Al Mabray, draped himself in an American flag festooned with yellow ribbons and launched a "freedom balloon" over the town.
As the hostages landed in Algiers en route to Frankfurt, West Germany, the city of Saginaw, Mich., burst into a three-minute "salute of joyous noise," according to a city father. Horns honked, bells rang and every siren in town sounded. The City Hall flag, flown at half staff throughout the ordeal, was raised to the top of the pole.
In Boston, state House Speaker Thomas W. McGee raised the flag at the statehouse. "I haven't been so happy at a flag-raising since Iwo," said McGee, a former Marine who was on Iwo Jima when the historic flag-raising took place there almost 40 years ago.
For many, the sensory shock of televised galas and mink coats at an inaugural added to past televised visions of blindfolded hostages and body bags of the dead would-be rescuers was a bit much to handle in one day. It was as if Americans needed a split screen of the brain, just as television so simply could create a double vision of history in the making.
Watching their TV screens, some broke out in cheers during Reagan's inaugural address when it was prematurely reported the hostages had taken off (the planes actually left Tehran moments after Reagan delivered his wrought-iron inaugural speech, a straightforward conservative message that some thought epitomized the philosophy that finally got the Iranians moving).
"I think the Iranians wanted to embarrass Reagan and Carter for the same reason," said Linda Kato of Detroit, adding that, in Iranian eyes, both men led what Tehran considers "the great satan."
But Nick Feldman, a 74-year-old retired auto worker in Detroit, looked at it differently: "Who were they embarrassing? I think it is a feather in the cap for Carter and Reagan. It doesn't embarrass either one."
And Judy Groombridge, a research technician from Bellevue, Was., felt "Carter came out smelling like a rose -- the Iranians got hysterical and the last little delay was part of the hysteria."
The mix of feelings were articulated by Roman Catholic Archbishop John Roach of St. Paul-Minneapolis.
"Few events in our nation's history have caused more pain than the ordeal of the hostages," he said, "and few have occasioned more widespread joy" than their release. Roach said the catharsis of Jan. 20 should presage "new beginnings" in our relationships with Iran and other countries "provided, of course, that they are also willing to do their part in seeking improved relations with us."
But out across the country, among the factory workers and farmers whom Reagan called the backbone of his America, over the American store counters where the new president said the country's real heroes labored, the muttering was pervasive enough to indicate it might take time before all Americans could be that forgiving.
"I'm glad it's over," said Jerry Ranch, an oil company supervisor in Detroit. "But right now I'm damned mad."
"What this proves is that there are some reasonable people in Iran," said Richard Carrico of Sausalito, Calif. "Unfortunately, all the weirdos were in command."
Several religious leaders warned against overreaction and cautioned about misunderstandings resulting from rhetorical differences and culture gaps.
But, for the most part, the problem seemed to be what Iran said it wanted it to be -- the 444-day humiliation of the world's greatest superpower, the country Ronald Reagan said can do anything, by a handful of people in a far-off land.
"My impression was that at the end of the negotiations all parties genuinely wanted to effect a compromise," Keith Dearborn, a Seattle lawyer, said. "The last-minute delay doesn't humiliate Carter any more than he has been humiliated already. You reach a point where you can't be insulted or humiliated any more than we have as American people."