Merrill Newman, the 85-year-old Korean War veteran who was detained for weeks in North Korea, landed a free man today in California.
After arriving at San Francisco International Airport at around 9:30 a.m. PT, a tired but smiling Newman held his wife’s hand and thanked the Swedish Embassy in Pyongyang, North Korea, and U.S. Embassy in Beijing for helping to secure his release.
He told the throng of reporters that he was “delighted to be home” but declined to answer any questions after making a brief statement.
“It’s been a great homecoming,” he said. “I’m tired, but ready to be with my family.”
Newman, of Palo Alto, was detained Oct. 26 at the end of a 10-day trip to North Korea, a visit that came six decades after he oversaw a group of South Korean wartime guerrillas during the 1950-53 war.
North Korean media says Newman was released because he apologized for his alleged crimes during the Korean War and because of his age and health. The former finance executive has a heart condition.
It’s not clear if Newman’s confession was coerced but North Korea state media released video showing Newman reading an apology last Saturday.
Pyongyang has been accused of previously coercing statements from detainees. Former South Korean guerrillas who had worked with Newman and fought behind enemy lines during the war disputed some of the details. Some in the group said they were surprised that Newman would take the risk of visiting North Korea given his association with their group, which is still remembered with keen hatred in the North. Others were amazed Pyongyang still considered Newman a threat.
Newman’s release comes as U.S. Vice President Joe Biden visit to the region brought him to Seoul. Biden said Saturday that he welcomed the release and said he talked by phone with Newman in Beijing, offering him a ride home on Air Force Two.