Merrill Newman returns home

Veteran, 85, declines to discuss his arrest, captivity in North Korea

Merrill Newman, the 85-year-old Palo Alto grandfather who had been detained by North Korean officials since Oct. 26, arrived home on Saturday morning.

He exited a United Airlines plane at San Francisco International Airport at 9:03 a.m. and was reunited with his family before speaking to the media.

Newman, a Korean War veteran who went to North Korea for a 10-day tour with a friend, had been taken from a plane that was returning to Beijing, China, on Oct. 26 and was held incommunicado for weeks before his arrest was confirmed.

At the airport today, he spoke briefly with reporters.

"I'm delighted to be home and thank the Swedish Embassy in Pyongyang and the American Embassy in Beijing for all their help," Newman said. "It's been a great homecoming, and I'm tired, but I'm ready to be with my family now.

"Thank you all for your support, and it's very much appreciated," he said.

His wife, Lee, and son, Jeff, stood behind him holding hands.

Newman did not discuss with reporters the reasons for his arrest or how he was treated while being held in North Korea. He was ushered through a door further down in the international terminal after making the brief statement.

On Nov. 29, the Korean Central News Agency had released a letter written by Newman apologizing for his actions as an adviser to a South Korean guerrilla group in the Korean War, 60 years ago. The news agency also released a video of Newman reading the letter.

"Although I committed the indelible offensive acts against the Korean people in the period of the Korean War, I have been guilty of big crimes against the DPRK government and Korean People again," he said.

The Korean news agency stated that the reason for his visit had been to contact the survivors -- and the family of the survivors -- of the organization he had allegedly advised during the war, more than 60 years ago.

"Shamelessly I had a plan to meet any surviving soldiers and pray for the souls of the dead soldiers in Kuwol Mt. (the organization he allegedly was an adviser for) during the Korean war," the letter stated. "Following the itinerary I asked my guide to help me look for the surviving soldiers and their families and descendants because it was too hard for me to do myself.".

Newman was deported by North Korea Friday, the U.S. State Department announced Friday evening: "We are pleased that Mr. Merrill Newman has been allowed to depart the DPRK and welcome the DPRK's decision to release him."

According to Reuters, the Korean Central News Agency reported on the North Korean government's official reasons for Newman's release.

"Taking into consideration his admittance of the act committed by him on the basis of his wrong understanding (and the) apology made by him for it, his sincere repentance of it and his advanced age and health condition, the above-said institution deported him from the country," the Korean Central News Agency stated.

Newman and his wife live at Channing House in Palo Alto. He traveled to North Korea with a friend from Channing House, Robert Hamrdla, who was on the plane headed for Beijing when Newman was detained.

"I am totally thrilled with an exclamation point to hear of Merrill's release," he said in a voicemail message on his phone. He declined further comment.

The State Department issued a statement Friday calling for North Korean officials to release another American being held, Kenneth Bae.

"This positive decision by the DPRK throws into sharper relief the continuing detention of Mr. Kenneth Bae, who has been in DPRK custody for over a year. We call on the DPRK once again to pardon and grant Mr. Bae special amnesty and immediately release him as a humanitarian gesture so that he too can return home to his family. The U.S. government will continue to work actively on this case.

"We thank the government of Sweden for the tireless efforts of the Embassy of Sweden in Pyongyang, which acts as our Protecting Power in the DPRK."

The Democratic People's Republic of Korea (DPRK) is North Korea's official name.

Officials from the U.S. Embassy in Beijing met Newman at the Beijing airport as he made his way back to the United States, a State Department spokesperson tweeted.

Newman looked well and was escorted from the airport terminal in Beijing, China with two people who were possibly U.S. diplomats, according to Reuters.

"I'm very glad to be on my way home. And I appreciate the tolerance the DPRK government has given to me to be on my way. I feel good, I feel good. I want to go home to see my wife," Newman told Japanese reporters at the Beijing airport, Reuters reported.

While being detained, Newman was visited by the Swedish ambassador, who serves as an intermediary between the U.S. and North Korea due to the two countries' chilly relationship.

U.S. Rep. Anna Eshoo, who represents Palo Alto, released a statement Saturday morning: "I am deeply grateful to the Administration, Ambassador Robert King and his exceptional staff, and colleagues who have from the beginning of this ordeal worked tirelessly with me to bring about Mr. Newman's release.

"Merrill and Lee Newman are beloved by the Palo Alto community, and we welcome him home with grateful hearts and open arms," she stated.

Read past coverage about Newman's arrest and detention in North Korea.


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