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U.S. veteran arrives home from N.Korea
01:42 - Source: CNN

Story highlights

NEW: "It's been a great homecoming," Merrill Newman says upon arrival in San Francisco

Video shows Newman smiling as he walks through Beijing's airport

The 85-year-old was detained in North Korea in October, issued a public apology

State news reports Newman was released for "humanitarian" reasons

CNN  — 

Merrill Newman – the 85-year-old American detained by North Korean authorities earlier this fall – returned Saturday to the United States, arriving at San Francisco International Airport.

“It’s been a great homecoming,” said Newman, who was wearing a blue sport coat and khakis. He thanked the U.S. and Swedish diplomats who had helped secure his release, then told reporters, “I’m tired … ready to be with my family now. Thank you all for the support we got, very much appreciated.”

With that, accompanied by his wife, Lee, and son, Jeff, he walked off.

Hours earlier, in the airport in Beijing, video showed him smiling as he walked past a cavalcade of reporters. He felt good, he said, and was looking forward to seeing his wife

“I’m very glad to be on my way home,” Newman said. “And I appreciate the tolerance the DPRK government has given to me to be on my way.”

The communist country “deported” the veteran of the Korean War, North Korea’s state news agency KCNA reported early Saturday. The move coincided with a visit by U.S. Vice President Joe Biden to South Korea, where he laid a wreath in honor of those who died in the war that pitted North against South.

A senior administration official said that Newman’s release was the result of direct contact between Washington and Pyongyang. The official said the North Koreans had told the Obama administration in a telephone call that they were releasing Newman; no explanation was offered.

In Palo Alto, California, Newman’s neighbors tied yellow ribbons around objects to welcome him back.

“We are absolutely delighted to confirm that Merrill Newman is on his way home after being released by the DPRK,” said Jeff Newman, Merrill’s son.

“This has been a very difficult ordeal for us as a family and particularly for him,” said his son.

The KCNA report stated that investigators had determined that “Newman entered the DPRK with a wrong understanding of it and perpetrated a hostile act against it.”

“Taking into consideration his admittance of the act committed by him on the basis of his wrong understanding (and the) 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 official North Korean report said.

Focus now on Kenneth Bae

Jeff Newman also called for the release of Kenneth Bae, another American being held in North Korea.