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Ex-Congressman Finally Gets Korean Medal

Posted January. 17, 2008 07:22,   


“I wanted to contribute to resolving the (North Korean) nuclear issue.”

So said former congressman Lane Evans, 56, to a Korean who visited his nursing home in Rock Island County, Illinois, about 260 km west of Chicago. He was having a hard time speaking with sweat covering his face. Despite his struggle, the countenance of “the friend of Koreans” shone with gladness to see a Korean visitor after his retirement. Parkinson’s disease forced him out of public service at the end of 2006.

Evans is a hero who has tirelessly fought to provide justice for “comfort women,” or those forced by the Japanese military to provide sex to soldiers during World War II. He sought to pass a resolution on comfort women in the U.S. Congress. For this, he received a high honor from the Korean government.

Seoul awarded him the Order of Diplomatic Service Merit Gwanghwa Medal for his promotion of human rights for racial and ethnic minorities, including Korean Americans.

It took more than 13 months, however, for Evans to receive medal. He has continued his rough and lonely fight against Parkinson’s in a sanitarium, where a caregiver visits him in the afternoon. His brother had acted as his legal representative, and barred him from having outside contact for fear of worsening his condition.

The opportunity for presenting the award to Evans came last year, when his new legal representative finally accepted repeated requests from the Korean government. The improvised ceremony at the nursing house was simple yet solemn.

With his caregiver and legal representative applauding, the former congressman repeatedly expressed appreciation to Kim Eun-seok, a counselor at the South Korean Embassy in Washington.

He spoke about the comfort women resolution passed by Congress in June last year, saying he was delighted at the news that the efforts of a gentleman from California bore fruit. He was referring to Japanese-American congressman Mike Honda, who was the principal sponsor of the resolution adopted by the House of Representatives.

Despite his nurse dissuading him from speaking, Evans made an effort to express his anguish and regret for not providing much assistance to resolve the nuclear crisis of North Korea.

He was first elected to the House at age 31 after working as a human rights lawyer and served 12 consecutive terms. He was diagnosed with Parkinson’s in 1995.

Seo Ok-ja, the president of the Washington Coalition for Comfort Women, has remained friends with Evans while working together on the comfort woman issue. She said, “All of those who worked with him believe he will overcome his illness with his iron will.”