Calif. family asks North Korea to release 85-year-old Korean War veteran

North Korean soldiers march through Kim Il-Sung square in Pyongyang. Merrill Newman, an American grandfather, has been missing since being removed from a plane about to depart North Korea on Oct. 26.

ED JONES/AFP/Getty Images

North Korean soldiers march through Kim Il-Sung square in Pyongyang. Merrill Newman, an American grandfather, has been missing since being removed from a plane about to depart North Korea on Oct. 26.

The family and friends of an 85-year-old California grandfather have appealed to North Korean officials to release the man, who reportedly has been held by authorities in the communist state since Oct. 26.

Merrill Newman of Palo Alto, Calif. — a veteran of the Korean War who traveled with a friend to North Korea last month – was "removed from a plane three weeks ago," just minutes before he was to depart on the first leg of his trip home, the San Jose Mercury News reports.

Jeffrey Newman, the missing man's son, tells The Associated Press it appears that a North Korean military officer boarded the plane, asked the elder Newman for his passport and then said the American had to leave the aircraft. "My dad got off, walked out with the stewardess, and that's the last he was seen," Jeffrey Newman says.

The scene was witnessed by Merrill Newman's friend, Bob Hamrdla. The two men had traveled to North Korea together. Hamrdla was allowed to depart.

The Mercury News adds:

"The day before he was to depart, Newman met with North Korean officials, who discussed his Army service in the Korean War more than a half-century earlier, ... Jeffrey Newman said Wednesday night.

"Merrill Newman was slightly unnerved, his son said, but went to dinner and thought nothing of it until the next day, ... when he was escorted off the plane. ...

"Hamrdla released a statement Wednesday afternoon, calling Newman's detention 'a terrible misunderstanding.' "

"We don't know what this misunderstanding is all about," Jeffrey Newman also tells the AP. "All we want as a family is to have my father, my kids' grandfather, returned to California so he can be with his family for Thanksgiving."

He says his father had for years wanted to visit the Korean peninsula to see some of the places where he served during the war decades ago.

The wire service reports:

"North Korea has detained at least six Americans since 2009, often for alleged missionary work, but it is unusual for a tourist to be arrested. ...

"Speaking Thursday to reporters in Beijing, U.S. Special Representative for North Korea Policy Glyn Davies wouldn't confirm Newman's detention but said, generally, that Washington was working with the Swedish Embassy in Pyongyang, which acts as America's protecting power because Washington and Pyongyang don't have official diplomatic relations, 'to try to move this issue along and of course calling on North Korea ... to resolve the issue and to allow our citizens to go free.' "

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