After 30 years of living in the United States, Usa Milner decided she would become an American citizen. What’s more, Usa decided that she would become an American citizen on Abraham Lincoln’s 200th birthday.

After 30 years of living in the United States, Usa Milner decided she would become an American citizen. What’s more, Usa decided that she would become an American citizen on Abraham Lincoln’s 200th birthday.

Last Thursday, Usa and her husband, Dave Milner, a Springfield dentist, prepared to leave his office for the naturalization ceremony at the Old State Capitol.

But there is many a slip between the cup and the lip.

In 1978, Usa left her home in Bangkok, Thailand, to attend Southern Illinois University at Carbondale. Her plan was to graduate, then return to Thailand. But she hadn’t planned on meeting and falling in love with Dave.

“I got in the way,” he jokes.

They were married in 1979 and eventually settled in Springfield. Usa did not move back to Thailand, but she did not change her citizenship status.

“The reason I never pushed it or made too big of a deal out of it,” Dave says, “is that in Thailand you have to be a citizen to have property rights. She still had family there, and what if she had to go back and take care of her mom? She knew she eventually wanted to become a citizen, but she had responsibilities to her family in Thailand.”

Usa says it is difficult to give up roots.

“Thailand was good to me,” she says. “I have family there. But then I think it’s time for me to settle down where I want to be. So that’s what I decided.”

There are three steps from Dave’s office down to the ground. As they were leaving for the ceremony Thursday, Usa caught a step wrong and fell. She was hurt. It was her arm.

Dave gently took off her coat and saw that her arm was bent the wrong way. He suspected her arm was broken.

Not today, of all days.

Dave used Usa’s scarf to quickly make a makeshift sling.

“I’m saying, ‘OK, let’s figure out what we’re going to do,’” says Dave. “I have a friend who’s a knee and ankle guy, so I thought we’d go there. But she’s saying, ‘No, no, no. I have this all planned out. It’s Lincoln’s 200th birthday. If it’s broke, it’s broke. Let’s do the ceremony first.’”

And so with Usa’s left arm throbbing, swelling and turned the wrong way, they proceeded to the Old State Capitol for the naturalization ceremony. Dave explained the situation to officials, who seated Usa and Dave first and told her them they did not need to stay for the speeches or voter registration following the ceremony.

As it was, they waited for an hour and a half for the ceremony to begin.

Usa took two Tylenol and gutted it out.

“If I go to the doctor,” says Usa, “I’d have to wait. I might as well do this instead. I’ve been waiting for a long time to do this. I don’t want to miss it. I will remember it forever. That’s why I wanted to do this.”

Usa raised her right arm (the good one) to take the oath of citizenship, received her certificate and headed for the doctor’s office with Dave.

“It was pretty bad,” Usa says of the pain, “but I’m so happy that I went through it.”

The doctor found that, instead of a broken arm, Usa had a complete dislocation of the elbow.

“Pain wise,” Dave says, “that’s worse than a break, because you’ve got all the tendons under stress. They’re just screaming.”

The doctor and an intern administered a local anesthetic and wrenched Usa’s arm around until it popped back into place. It wasn’t pretty. And it took two tries.

Her arm is in a splint, but she’s smiling.

“I was so glad I did it on Lincoln’s birthday,” says Usa (spell her name out loud, and you will find it very appropriate, given the circumstances). “That’s very, very memorable.”

Most people at the naturalization ceremony didn’t realize what was going on with Usa. Besides, Dave points out, there was another participant at the ceremony on Lincoln’s birthday whose name was Abraham, and that made him the focus of attention.

On Friday night, a day after becoming a citizen of the United States, Usa went with Dave to the Rochester vs. Tri-City basketball game. When they played “The Star-Spangled Banner” before the game, there weren’t many prouder than the woman with her arm in a split — even if nobody knew why.

“It’s the first time,” she says, “I really feel like an American.”

Dave Bakke can be reached at (217) 788-1541 or dave.bakke@sj-r.com.