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Family of U.S. man detained in North Korea asks for Thanksgiving reunion

Jeffrey Newman comes out of his home to make a brief comment about his father, Merrill Newman, an 85-year-old Korean War veteran being detai
Jeffrey Newman comes out of his home to make a brief comment about his father, Merrill Newman, an 85-year-old Korean War veteran being detai

By Alex Dobuzinskis

LOS ANGELES (Reuters) - The wife of an 85-year-old American man detained in North Korea appealed to the reclusive Asian nation on Monday to free him and allow him to return home to California for the Thanksgiving holiday.

Merrill Newman, a veteran of the Korean War who had been visiting North Korea as a tourist, has been held since authorities in Pyongyang on October 26 took him off an Air Koryo plane that had been set to depart the country.

"I would like to remind them that this is the 30th day of his detention, that we're looking forward as a family to being together on Thanksgiving and we need to have Merrill back at the head of the table for the holidays," Newman's wife, Lee Newman, said in an interview with CNN.

"And we ask respectfully for them to release him and let him come home," she added.

Merrill Newman's detention was revealed last week, and the U.S. State Department has since publicly called on North Korea to release Newman and another American, Kenneth Bae, 45, who has been held in the country for more than a year.

Newman was detained a day after he and his tour guide had been interviewed by North Korean authorities at a meeting in which Newman's service during the Korean War was discussed, his son, Jeff Newman, told CNN last week.

Experts on North Korea have expressed surprise that an elderly American on a sightseeing trip - one of hundreds of U.S. citizens who visit that country every year - would be singled out for detention simply for having served in the Korean War.

Officials in North Korea have not given a reason for why they detained Newman, who lives in the upscale Northern California city of Palo Alto.

In a direct message to her husband on CNN, Lee Newman said tearfully, "We're missing you and we want you home."

INFANTRY OFFICER

Jeff Newman has said accounts of his father's disappearance were based on details relayed to him through another American resident at his father's retirement home who was traveling with him. That man, Bob Hamrdla, a former assistant to the president of Stanford University, is back in California.

Merrill Newman served as an infantry officer in the Korean War. A holder of a master's degree in education, he taught high school for a time and also served as the chief financial officer for a number of San Francisco Bay area technology companies before retiring in 1984, according to a newsletter from the retirement community where he lives.

He went to North Korea because his time in the U.S. military was "an important part of his life" and he was "trying to put some closure on that," Lee Newman told CNN.

Jeff Newman, of Pasadena, California, told CNN on Monday that his family wants "nothing more than to have this misunderstanding put behind us" and he appealed for his father to be freed "on a humanitarian basis."

Merrill Newman has a heart rhythm disorder, and his family has sent him medicine for the condition, Lee Newman told CNN.

But Swedish diplomats who act as intermediaries between the United States and North Korea have not contacted Merrill Newman and it is unclear if he has received either of the two packages of medication sent to him, Jeff Newman told CNN.

(Additional reporting by Sharon Bernstein in Sacramento; Editing by Cynthia Johnston, Lisa Shumaker, Doina Chiacu)

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