The son of an 85-year-old Palo Alto man who is being detained in North Korea says the arrest came days after a tense conversation with local officials about his service in the Korean War.
Appearing on NBC's "Today" show Monday, Jeff Newman said the conversation between his father, Merrill, and North Korean authorities "might have had some tension in it" when the Korean War came up.
“There's some terrible misunderstanding that's taken place here,’’ Jeff Newman said.
Merrill Newman was buckled in his seat on a plane preparing to depart Pyongyang's Sunan International Airport on Oct. 26 when a flight attendant pointed him out to two men in uniform. They promptly escorted him off the plane, according to his family and a traveling companion.
Bob Hamrdla, who was sitting next to Merrill Newman when he was escorted off, released a statement last week calling the detention "a terrible misunderstanding."
North Korea last week confirmed that it had detained a U.S. citizen, but did not identify the person.
The confirmation, relayed by the Swedish Consulate in North Korea, came on the same day Merrill Newman's wife, Lee, who also appeared on "Today," issued a statement from her assisted-living home pleading for his safe return.
On Monday, she again appealed to North Korean authorities, describing the detention of her husband of 56 years as being particularly hard during the holidays.
“It's hard for his grandchildren,’’ she said. “It’s hard for his whole family. We have a lot of support but when you don't know where your husband of 56 years is, you don't know his health, you don't know when he will be home with us, it's not an easy situation.
“He has people that he loves here and he needs to be back at home.”
In the statement she released last week, Lee Newman said her husband had been looking forward to his 10-day tour of North Korea for some time. Postcards sent from his trip described "good times, good weather and knowledgeable guides," she added.