Saying this was a “great homecoming,” Merrill Newman, the 85-year-old Korean War veteran who had been held by North Korea for weeks, walked out of San Francisco International Airport with his wife on Saturday.
As we reported, Newman was deported by North Korea on Friday, days after he appeared on state TV reading an apology for alleged war crimes.
After clearing customs, Newman delivered a short statement in which he thanked the Swedish Embassy in Pyongyang and the U.S. State Department.
“I’m tired but ready to be with my family now,” Newman said. “Thank you all for the support we got and very much appreciate it.”
Asked what he would do when he got home to Palo Alto, Newman said, “Probably take my shoes off.”
Newman was on his way back from a tourist trip to the country in October, when North Korean authorities arrested him. At first, the country did not say why Newman was being detained, but later officials accused him of committing “indelible crimes against” the country in the past and during his current trip.
The U.S. called on North Korea to grant him amnesty and release him. Newman was finally released Friday, flying first to Beijing and then to San Francisco.
As the San Jose Mercury News reports, Vice President Joe Biden, who is in South Korea, spoke to Newman by phone and offered him a ride back home on Air Force Two. Newman declined.
The paper adds:
“Merrill and Lee Newman live in the Channing House retirement complex in Palo Alto, where residents tied yellow ribbons around the front pillars of the building. When his release was announced in the dining hall at dinner time Friday, the residents erupted in applause.
“Newman had told his neighbors before his trip that he simply wanted to return as a tourist to North Korea, where he was an Army infantry officer in 1953. His son, Jeffrey Newman, had said that the war had a ‘profound, powerful impact’ on him.”