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Detained American veteran's wife pleads for husband's safe return

The wife of a California Korean War Veteran who has been detained in North Korea since October has pleaded for his return.
November 25, 2013 12:00:00 AM PST
Family members of an 85-year-old Korean War veteran who has been detained in North Korea since late October are speaking out.

Merrill Newman's wife, Lee, believes her husband is the victim of a "dreadful misunderstanding."

His family, who lives in Palo Alto, Calif., says they don't understand why Newman was detained but hope that the issue is cleared up soon so Newman can be home in time for the holidays.

Newman was on a 10-day guided tour of North Korea. His son and wife say he wanted to return to the country that he had spent three years in as a young man during the war.

"He's had a long-standing and tremendously respectful interest in the Korean culture and the Korean people, and like the vets who have had an interest in going back to Normandy, my dad, who was a veteran of the Korean conflict, wanted to go back to the northern part of the peninsula. This was a lifelong dream of his," said Jeff Newman, Merrill's son.

On Oct. 26, Newman boarded a plane in Pyongyang to come back to the states but was pulled off that plane. His family hasn't heard from him since.

"The post cards that we have gotten back from him, from various friends to whom he had sent these cards, are all so positive," said Lee. "He enjoyed his guides. He enjoyed what he had been able to see. The weather was good, he had just had only good experiences so it really does leave us confused. As Jeff says, we just hope that whatever that misunderstanding is will be resolved."

North Korean officials have confirmed they are holding an American citizen but won't reveal an identity. The Swedish Embassy is negotiating on a daily basis on behalf of Newman because the U.S. has no diplomatic ties to North Korea, State Department spokeswoman Jen Psaki told reporters in Washington.

According to Newman's family, the 85-year-old may have had "difficult" discussions with Korean officials about his time served in the war, which could have lead to his detainment. But whatever the case, Newman's family says they are desperate to have him home especially because he has a heart condition that requires medication.

"We have had no word on the state of his health, whether or not the medications sent to him through the Swedish Embassy in North Korea have been delivered or why he was detained," said Lee.

North Korea has detained at least six Americans since 2009, including two journalists accused of trespassing and several missionaries accused of spreading Christianity. Newman doesn't fit the pattern of the other detained Americans.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

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