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Elderly Cal Grad Held by North Korea Released, Returns to Bay Area

The 85-year-old UC Berkeley grad and former Berkeley teacher detained for more than a month by North Korea, Merrill Newman of Palo Alto, arrived back in the Bay Area today after being released.

85-year-old UC Berkeley grad Merrill Newman arrived back home in the Bay Area on Dec. 7, 2013 after being held captive in North Korea for more than a month. Photo: screen grab from ABC newscast posted on YouTube
85-year-old UC Berkeley grad Merrill Newman arrived back home in the Bay Area on Dec. 7, 2013 after being held captive in North Korea for more than a month. Photo: screen grab from ABC newscast posted on YouTube

By Laura Dixon, Bay City News Service

An elderly Palo Alto man who was detained in North Korea for more than a month has been reunited with his family in the Bay Area this morning.

Merrill Newman, an 85-year-old Korean War veteran, landed at San Francisco International Airport a short time after 9 a.m. on a flight from Beijing, airport personnel confirmed. His long-awaited return comes after a 42-day detainment in North Korea, according to a Facebook page dedicated to bringing him home.

"It's been a great homecoming," he told reporters at the airport.

"I'm tired, but it's good to be with my family," he said.

Newman thanked the Swedish embassy in Pyongyang and the American embassy in Beijing for their efforts in helping to bring him home.

He also thanked all of the well-wishers in the Bay Area and beyond for their support during his six-week ordeal.

The 85-year-old and his son, Jeff Newman, declined further questions from reporters this morning.

Newman had been visiting North Korea and was set to return to the United States on Oct. 26, when he was detained for alleged "hostile acts against the state" stemming from his army service in the Korean War 60 years ago, according to statements on the Facebook page.

Before being deported by the North Korean government, Newman was recorded in a taped statement confessing to the alleged crimes.

Many have speculated that the statement was a forced confession.

When news broke on Friday that Newman was being deported, friends, family and strangers posted celebratory online messages.

Rep. Anna G. Eshoo, whose congressional district includes Palo Alto, also expressed her relief that Newman would be reunited with his wife Lee Newman and their son after his 42-day detainment.

"I am deeply grateful to the (Obama) 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," the congresswoman said in a statement.

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

Copyright © 2013 by Bay City News, Inc. – Republication, Rebroadcast or any other Reuse without the express written consent of Bay City News, Inc. is prohibited.    

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