Merrill Newman was on the trip of a lifetime with buddy Bob Hamrdla before it all went terribly wrong. The Korean War veteran had painstakingly planned a trip to North Korea, going through an agency and hiring two guides. It seemed that everything had gone without a hitch until Newman was pulled off his plane just it was leaving Pyongyang. And, since his presumed detention on Oct. 26, Newman's family has had no contact with the 85-year-old.
Apparently, Newman may have gotten a little too chatty with some of his North Korean minders — his son thinks he may have started talking to them about his military service, and fighting against North Korea. Which should've seemed like a bad idea, but apparently didn't. "My father is a [Korean War] veteran and wanted to see the country and culture he has been interested in for years," his son Jeff told CNN. "He arranged this with a travel agent that was recommended and said was approved by the North Korean government for travel of foreigners. He had all the proper visas."
He's not the first American to be detained in North Korea. But others committed more overt violations: they reportedly were trying to bring the Christian faith to the impoverished people, or had entered the country illegally.
Still, the story gets worse: Merrill Newman suffers from a heart condition, and needs medical supervision and treatment. (Let's also remember that he's 85!) The family tried to pass medication along via Swedish diplomats, but have no guarantee that it actually got to Newman.
The United States is reportedly working through China to return Newman home unharmed. Glyn Davies, the U.S. special representative for North Korea policy, said that Pyongyang's treatment of the detention "is an indication that North Korea seems not to be seeking a better relationship with United States." Yeah, no. North Korea recently restarted a nuclear reactor and warned of "horrible disaster" should the U.S. provoke it. (On the domestic policy front, it also recently publicly executed a whole bunch of people for having bibles.)
"There has to be a terrible misunderstanding. 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," said Hamrdla, the travel companion. But since North Korea plays a game without bargaining chips, there's no guarantee.
"At the end of the day, we'd like him to get on a plane and fly back to San Francisco. He's an 85-year-old man who followed all the protocols. He did everything that he was supposed to do," Jeff Newman said.