Merrill Newman had taken to travelling the world after retiring.
An 85-year-old Korean War veteran following a “lifelong dream” to visit North Korea has been detained in the communist country for more than three weeks, according to reports.
Merrill Newman, of Palo Alto, was five minutes from takeoff on his return flight to Beijing on Oct. 26 when authorities boarded the plane, asked the grandfather for his passport and took him off the aircraft, the elderly man’s son, Jeff Newman, told Anderson Cooper on “CNN” Wednesday night.
His father is a “curious cat,” Jeff Newman said of the man’s decision to visit the country, with which the United States has no diplomatic relations.
The State Department on Tuesday even issued an updated travel advisory, warning Americans to avoid North Korea, which reportedly was “arbitrarily detaining U.S. citizens and not allowing them to depart the country,” the San Jose Mercury News reports.
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North Korean leader Kim Jong Un, second from right, or other authorities have acknowledged they have detained Merrill Newman.
The warning says that two Americans who entered the country on valid visas since 2009 have been arrested and detained in North Korea.
The State Department has yet to acknowledge or confirm the fact that Merrill Newman, specifically, has been detained.
“We are aware of reports that a U.S. citizen was detained in North Korea,” the State Department said in a statement to the Mercury News. “There is no greater priority for us than the welfare and safety of U.S. citizens abroad. We have no additional information to share at this time.”
The elderly man traveled to the nation with a neighbor of his at the Channing House, a retirement community in Palo Alto. Bob Hamrdla was allowed to leave the country and called the detainment “a terrible misunderstanding.”
Merrill Newman, an 85-year-old veteran of the Korean War, had entered North Korea legally on a tourist visa and was all set to leave on October 26 when he was apprehended by North Korean authorities.
“I hope that the North Koreans see this as a humanitarian matter and allow him to return to his family as soon as possible,” Hamrdla told the newspaper.
North Korean authorities are known to detain and even arrest Americans – but they frequently are Korean Americans, making the detention of Merrill Newman particularly odd, the newspaper reported.
Newman was an infantry officer during the Korean War and went on to become a finance executive for tech companies, teach and volunteer. Since his retirement, Newman has reportedly taken to traveling the world with his wife. His trip with Hamrdla was meant to last 10 days.
“I said ‘why do you want to go to a place that’s dangerous, I wouldn’t want to go,'” a neighbor told the Mercury News. “His reaction was very relaxed, with a smile. He went just as a fun trip. He wasn’t there for any particular reason. They were travelling.”