MADELEINE BRAND host:
From NPR News this is ALL THINGS CONSIDERED. I'm Madeleine Brand.
MELISSA BLOCK, host:
And I'm Melissa Block.
Sometime soon, they may share what it was like to be held captive in North Korea for nearly five months. But for now, American journalists Laura Ling and Euna Lee are just glad to be back home. The women arrived to a tearful reunion this morning at the Burbank Airport, just outside Los Angeles. With them was former President Bill Clinton. He secured their release after meeting with North Korean leader Kim Jong Il. NPR's Mandalit Del Barco was there for the homecoming.
(Soundbite of applause)
MANDALIT DEL BARCO: As they stepped off the private charter jet that brought them home, Euna Lee blew a kiss and bowed. Laura Ling held her hand over her heart and then raised both arms in victory. They walked into the embrace of their friends and families, including Lee's 4-year-old daughter, Hanna, who hugged her mother tightly. Then, Laura Ling talked about their ordeal.
Ms. LAURA LING (Journalist): The past 140 days have been the most difficult, heart-wrenching time of our lives. We are very grateful that we were granted amnesty by the government of North Korea, and we are so happy to be home.
DEL BARCO: Ling said during their imprisonment, she and Lee feared they would be sent to a hard-labor camp. They'd been sentenced to 12 years by the North Korean government for illegally crossing into the country during a reporting trip for Current TV. Ling said she and Lee had no idea what was ahead when their jailers summoned them.
Ms. LING: When we walked in through the doors, we saw standing before us President Bill Clinton.
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DEL BARCO: Laura Ling thanked the former president and what she called his super-cool team for coming to their rescue.
Ms. LING: We were shocked, but we knew instantly in our hearts the nightmare of our lives was finally coming to an end. And now we stand here, home and free.
DEL BARCO: President Clinton smiled but uncharacteristically, had nothing to say to reporters. Former Vice President Al Gore did the talking. He heads Current TV, where the two young journalists work.
Former Vice President AL GORE: We want to welcome Laura and Euna home. We want to thank President Bill Clinton for undertaking this mission and performing it so skillfully.
DEL BARCO: Gore had been working for the release ever since the two journalists were captured while working on a story about refugees in North Korea. Today, he told Laura and Euna they were never forgotten.
Former Vice Pres. GORE: Hanna's been a great girl while you were gone. And Laura, your mom's been making your special soup for two days now.
DEL BARCO: Details about the young women's time in captivity are mostly unknown. But Ling's husband, Iain Clayton, and her big sister, Lisa, told reporters Laura has clearly lost weight and is exhausted.
Mr. IAIN CLAYTON: The first thing I said was, you know, wow. I can't believe this. This is amazing. You know, and then I probably told her how much I loved her.
Ms. LISA LING: I can tell that she has gone through a lot. My sister has an amazing, amazing spirit, and she's just - she's a little bit weak right now.
DEL BARCO: While they were imprisoned, Ling and Lee also got a lot of love from strangers who followed online updates and campaigned for their release. Ling's sister Lisa, a popular TV personality, helped keep the cause alive in the media. Today, she said it'll take time for her sister to get back to normal. One of Laura's first questions after landing in California was, what's for dinner?
Ms. LISA LING: She's really, really anxious to have fresh fruit and fresh food. I mean, she was telling us about how there were rocks in her rice. It's obviously a country that has a lot of economic problems. And I think that Laura and Euna were actually fortunate that they were served meals on a regular basis.
DEL BARCO: Ling says Euna and Laura never intended to cross the border from China into North Korea during their reporting trip. But she says that's a story they'll have to tell for themselves.
Mandalit Del Barco, NPR News.