Merrill E. Newman, an 85-year-old Korean War veteran from Northern California, has been detained in North Korea after visiting the country with a friend. Newman was arrested for reasons unknown on Oct. 26, and his family is desperate to contact him.
The San Jose Mercury News first broke the unsettling story. Merrill Newman's son Jeffrey told the newspaper that his dad was taking a vacation with neighbor Bob Hamrdla on a trip they booked through a Beijing-based tour company:
"He's always wanted to go to North Korea; it's been a lifelong thing. Like the guys who go back to Normandy, the World War II veterans. These places had profound, powerful impacts on them as young men, and he wanted to see it again."
Merrill told his son that North Korean officials approached him on Oct. 25 about his prior service in the Army during the Korean War. The next day, as his father was seated on his departing plane, a stewardess approached him and told him he needed to leave the aircraft. Jeffrey Merrill explained to The Associated Press:
"My dad got off, walked out with the stewardess, and that's the last he was seen."
Merrill Newman lives with his wife Lee in a retirement home in Palo Alto called Channing House. Both Lee and Jeffrey Newman are greatly concerned Merrill isn't receiving his much-needed heart medication.
As far as the response of the United States government goes, a State Department official released a statement to the The San Francisco Chronicle, saying:
"We are aware of reports that a U.S. citizen was detained in North Korea. There is no greater priority for us than the welfare and safety of U.S. citizens abroad."
San Francisco Bay Area television station KPIX-TV put together this report on the whole Kafkaesque incident: