Nightly News   |  December 03, 2013

Korean War veteran detained in North Korea

Merrill Newman, an 85-year-old veteran who once supervised South Korean guerrillas, was pulled off a plane by the North Koreans after a 10-day tour of the country. He was planning to go to South Korea to reunite with some of his former troops. NBC’s Andrea Mitchell reports.

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This content comes from Closed Captioning that was broadcast along with this program.

>>> ever since the news first broke that an 85-year-old american, a korean war veteran, in fact, had been pulled off a plane in north korea and detained there, the folks asked why the north would harass a visiting tourist. well, new details have come out explaining why the north koreans have singled him out and why so far they are not letting him return home. our story tonight from andrea mitchell , our chief foreign affairs correspondent.

>> reporter: he was according to friend his in his former combat unit, one of the leaders of an elite commando team, training south koreans to go behind enemy lines . in fact, when he was pulled off the plane by the north koreans , he was planning to go to south korea and reunite with some of his former troops who are waiting for him there. one said i wouldn't go there. north korea would think i was a spy or something. a friend said he believes that is why he thinks newman is being held.

>> the charges are false, we never killed anybody or anything. and never advocated killing.

>> reporter: after six weeks, newman was seen this weekend, signing an alleged apology for his actions during the war. but there is no way of verifying the confession or under what circumstances newman read it. at home in california, his wife, lee, worries about his health.

>> when you don't know where your husband of 56 years is, you don't know his health, when he will be home with us, it is not an easy situation.

>> reporter: experts say korea's young leader, kim jong -un, may be trying to gain leverage with the u.s. but he is hard to predict, only today he took his uncle from his position of leadership and executed others.

>> he is acting totally differently than his father, which was reasonably predictable when it came to these american political prisoners.

>> reporter: but now, no one can say whether newman 's video appeal will be the key to his release, andrea mitchell , nbc news, washington.