The families of Euna Lee & Laura Ling say they are exhausted but extremely happy to be home. Lee and Ling, American journalists,were pardoned and released after former president Bill Clinton made an unexpected visit to North Korean leader Kim Jong Il. The women had been accused of illegally crossing into North Korea from South Korea and were given a 12-year hard-labor sentence for participating in “hostile acts.”
Lee emerged from the jetliner first and was greeted by husband Michael Saldate and 4-year-old daughter Hana. She hugged the girl and picked her up before all three embraced in a crushing hug as TV networks beamed the poignant moment live.
Ling embraced her husband Iain Clayton as teary family members crowded around.
“The past 140 days have been the most difficult, heart-wrenching days of our lives,” Ling said, her voice cracking.
Thirty hours ago, Ling said, “We feared that any moment we could be sent to a hard labor camp.”
Then, she said, they were taken to another location.
“When we walked through the doors, we saw standing before us President Bill Clinton,” she said to applause. “We were shocked but we knew instantly in our hearts that the nightmare of our lives was finally coming to an end, and now we stand here, home and free.”
Clinton came down the stairs to applause. He hugged Gore at the foot of the stairs, then chatted with family members.
Gore described the families of the two women as “unbelievable, passionate, involved, committed, innovative.”
“Hana’s been a great girl while you were gone,” he told Lee. “And Laura, your mom’s been making your special soup for two days now.”
A few hours after landing on American soil, Euna Lee and Laura Ling were back home resting and looking forward to a home-cooked meal.
“[Laura] seems like she’s in pretty good physical health so we’re very happy about that,” Ling’s husband, Iain Clayton, told reporters outside their home in Studio City, Calif. “At the moment now she’s going to relax and take it easy.”
“My sister is absolutely exhausted and just resting,” added Ling’s sister, Lisa. “She could barely speak she’s so tired.”
“This is kind of an unprecedented situation and we have completely drawn support from so many people,” said Lisa.
“We are so especially appreciative of our government who really came to the rescue.”
Ling, according to Lisa, not only was happy to be home but also to be able to eat fresh food.
“She was telling us how there were rocks in her rice [in North Korea],” revealed Lisa. “She’s anxious just to eat fresh food. I know there’s going to be a sushi dinner very soon!”
Their mother Mary woke up at 3 o’clock in the morning to prepare her daughter’s first meal: “A special Chinese herbal soup.”
When asked by reporters outside the home if she thought there would be a happy ending, Mary described the past few months as “just kind of up and down all the time.”
“Some days I think [their release] is happening, some days I say it may not happen. Just scared and wishful at the same time, all the time,” she said. “What gave me courage was millions of people all over the world their encouragement.”
What the women are feeling, I’m sure can’t be fully imagined by those of us who have never experienced such a nightmare. I’m sure their famililies are holding them a little tighter and little closer. I just keep picturing Lee hugging her little girl after they were reunited – what a feeling that must have been after five months apart. Gives me chills.