Merrill Newman, an 85-year-old war veteran who was held prisoner in North Korea for six weeks, was greeted by his wife and son when he arrived at San Francisco International Airport on Saturday following his release.
“It’s been a great homecoming,” Merrill told reporters, with his wife, Lee, and son, Jeffrey, standing by his side. “I’m tired — but I’m with my family now.”
Asked what he planned to do once he got home to Palo Alto, Calif., Newman quipped: “Probably take my shoes off.”
Newman’s flight from Beijing landed about 9 a.m., the San Jose Mercury News reported.
A retired tech executive, Newman was pulled off an airplane about to leave the North Korean capital of Pyongyang on Oct. 26 at the end of a 10-day tour, after speaking to his guides there about his service in a clandestine anti-communist army unit during the 1950-53 Korean War.
North Korean officials released a video confession in which Newman said he had been trying to contact survivors from his military unit and their families.
In a statement announcing Newman’s release, the official Korean Central News Agency said he had entered the country under “the guise of a tourist to confirm the whereabouts of the spies and terrorists who had been trained and dispatched by him.”
“Taking into consideration his admittance of the act committed by him … (the) apology made by him, his sincere repentance of it and his advanced age and health condition, (North Korea) deported him from the country from a humanitarian viewpoint,” the statement said.
Newman was an officer in what was called the Mount Kuwol unit, which operated off the west coast of North Korea, conducting guerrilla raids on communist military and civilian targets in the latter part of the Korean War and immediate aftermath.
Newman’s decision to go to North Korea has been derided by many, but not by all Korea experts.
“A lot of Marines want to go back. They are haunted by what they did during the Korean War and want to bring closure,” said Donald P. Gregg, 86, a former U.S. ambassador to South Korea. “I understand him. I’m the same age.”
Gregg, who has visited North Korea five times, said Newman’s release opened the possibility of a renewed dialogue toward reaching an interim nuclear accord similar to the one recently struck with Iran.
“I think the North Koreans did themselves a lot of good by returning him in a dignified manner,” said Gregg. “I think we have no choice but to talk to these people.”
Newman’s son, Jeffrey, speaking outside his Pasadena, Calif., home on Friday, thanked the Swedish embassy in Pyongyang for helping his father while in custody.
“This is a great moment for us as a family, and it will be even better when we have a chance to be back together in a few hours,” the younger Newman said at the time.
“After Merrill comes home and has a chance to get a well-deserved rest, we will have more to say about his unusual and difficult journey.”