Nightly News   |  December 07, 2013

U.S. vet detained in North Korea finally returns home

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.

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>>> but our top story tonight comes from california, where an 85-year-old american man is home after a seven-week ordeal as a prisoner in north korea . the end of a tense standoff came suddenly, the north korean government saying merrill newman , a korean war vet with a heart condition was released for humanitarian reasons. nbc's mike taibbi is in palo alto with more porous. good evening.

>> reporter: good evening, lester. the north korean officers say they deported merrill newman , others say he was freed after a detention that never should have happened. the ex-marine for a trip that lasted much longer than it should have is home. it happened quickly without any prior announcement, the flight from pyongyang to beijing, and merrill newman finally able to speak freely

>> i'm very glad to be on my way home.

>> reporter: and then after a direct flight to san francisco , american soil.

>> it's been a great, great homecoming and i'm tired, but ready to be with my family now and thank you all for the support we got, and very much appreciated.

>> reporter: newman had visited north korea on an organized tour but was pulled off his homebound flight october 26th minutes before takeoff and held without explanation but the elderly man who had raised a family and spent a career in corporate fitne finance had a war time effort. on video dated november 9th , the north korean government released an apology that seemed to be written for newman , and then another full month of waiting while back channel talks proceeded. the statement from north korea 's state news agency taking into consideration his sincere repentance, his advanced age and health condition, the democratic people's republic of north korea deported him from the country. vice president joe biden in south korea for a memorial honoring korean war dead said he had no role in the negotiations but while praising newman 's release, added that another american, christian missionary kenneth bae, is still jailed in north korea .

>> mr. bae has no reason of being held and should be released immediately.

>> reporter: but an elderly retiree with a heart condition is now home looking forward to kicking back.

>> i think i'll probably take my shoes off.

>> reporter: his wife, lee, so relieved to have him back.

>> 42 days is a long time to wait.

>> reporter: an end to a time in history which is much more than merrill newman bargained for. when asked today if he'd ever return to north korea he said "probably into tnot" and smiled.