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85-year-old vet says he was well-fed, comfortable during North Korea detainment

Eighty-five-year-old Merrill Newman spent more than a month detained in North Korea. Now, he's back home in California. NBC's Mike Taibbi reports.

The 85-year-old American detained in North Korea this fall said Sunday that he was well fed and comfortable during the more than a month he was held in the secretive communist nation, a newspaper reported.

Merrill Newman told the Santa Cruz Sentinel that he was held in a hotel room and even felt a little "bored" during his detainment. He said he was given traditional Korean food to eat. The newspaper said he spoke briefly Sunday morning outside his Santa Cruz home.

The Korean War veteran had spent a 10-day vacation tour in North Korea and was on an airline jet for a flight home to the United States on Oct. 26 when he was pulled off the aircraft.


North Korea released him on Friday, citing his age and a heart condition.

"Taking into consideration his admittance of the act committed by him on the basis of his wrong understanding, apology made by him for it, his sincere repentance of it and his advanced age and health condition, the above-said institution deported him from the country from a humanitarian viewpoint," the North's official Korean Central News Agency wrote on Saturday. 

Noah Berger / Reuters

Merrill Newman arrives at San Francisco International Airport on Saturday after his release from North Korea.

The KCNA said last week that Newman attempted to meet with soldiers he trained during the war to fight North Korea, admitted he was a “criminal” involved in killing civilians during the war, and carried an e-book criticizing North Korea.

Newman helped to train and coordinate a battalion of Korean anti-communist guerrillas, a veteran who served with him has said.

North Korea released a statement of apology supposedly made by Newman and a video of him reading an apology.

Asked about the apology on Sunday, Newman told the Sentinel, "Obviously, that's not my English."