U.S. Veteran Detained in North Korea

A trip of a lifetime for an American vet turns into a nightmare in North Korea.

This 2005 photo provided by the Palo Alto Weekly shows Merrill Newman, a retired finance executive and Red Cross volunteer, in Palo Alto, Calif.
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An American veteran of the Korean War was detained in North Korea last month, when he was pulled off a plane preparing to depart from the airport. His family has yet to hear from him or the North Koreans.

"A uniformed North Korean officer came on the plane, asked to see his passport, and asked the stewardess to have him leave the plane," Jeffrey Newman, son of the 85-year-old detainee Merrill Newman, told The Associated Press.

"My dad got off, walked out with the stewardess, and that's the last he was seen," Newman said.

The elder Newman had gone on a nine-day tour of North Korea with a friend and two tour guides. According to his son, North Korea had long been a place of great fascination for Newman ever since he was an infantry officer in the Korean War. The son said his father went through all the appropriate channels and received "all the proper visas" for his trip.

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According to Newman's elderly traveling companion Bob Hamrdla, on the last day of the trip Newman had a conversation with a number of North Korean officials where it came out that Newman fought in the Korean War. While Newman felt slightly uneasy about the discussion, he did not go into much when he told Hamrdla about it.

"There has to be a terrible misunderstanding," Hamrdla said in a statement. "I hope that the North Koreans will see this as a humanitarian matter and allow him to return to his family as soon as possible."

The State Department and other U.S. officials are working with North Korea to resolve the matter.

Due to the rocky relationship between the U.S. and North Korea, U.S. representative for North Korean policy Ambassador Glyn Davies was directed to meet with Chinese officials to discuss what may be done to get Newman back to his family.

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"We are working very hard ... to try to move this issue along," Davies announced upon leaving the negotiations. "We certainly think that North Korea should think long and hard about (this) and understand that for the United States, this is a matter of core concern for us."

Newman is reported to suffer from a heart condition and has been sent his medication through Swedish diplomats, although it is unclear whether it ever actually made it to the elderly veteran.

This is not the first incident where an American has been imprisoned by the North Koreans. Last November, a Korean-American Christian missionary was sentenced to 15 years of hard labor in North Korea after acting as a tour guide for a group of Chinese businessman, the New York Times reports. He was sentenced to a prison camp for committing "hostile acts" and is now in the hospital due to the severity of the work he was forced to do.

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