Family of Detained American Merrill Newman Worried About His Health in North Korea

PHOTO: Merrill Newman, a retired finance executive and Red Cross volunteer, in Palo Alto, Calif., in 2005PlayNicholas Wright/Palo Alto Weekly/AP Photo
WATCH Family Petitions for Release of Veteran Held Against Will in North Korea

The wife of an 85-year-old Korean War veteran being held in North Korea says her husband's detainment is a "misunderstanding" and the family is concerned about his health.

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Merrill Newman, of Palo Alto, Calif., was pulled from a plane Oct. 26 while preparing to leave the communist nation after a 10-day tour. Newman's family is now stressing over his health because the former finance executive has a heart condition and has run out of medication. Newman's family has sent new pills to officials in Beijing where they were picked up by the Swedish ambassador and flown to Pyongyang.

"We know that the Swedish ambassador picked that up in Beijing and brought it to North Korea and then delivered it to the Korean Ministry of Foreign Affairs, but we have no idea whether he's received it," Newman's son, Jeffrey, told ABC News. "We've no contact from him. We know nothing about his status."

Did North Korea Detain the Wrong US Korean War Vet?

Newman's wife, Lee, doesn't understand why her husband is being detained, but hopes the situation can be resolved soon so the family can spend the holidays together.

"We just hope whatever that misunderstanding is will be resolved very quickly and that he can return and be at our table for the holidays," Lee Newman told ABC News.

Merrill Newman was traveling with a group out of Beijing on a tour bus through North Korea. On Oct. 26, what was to be Newman's last day in North Korea, he was taken off of a plane set to leave the country and detained by authorities.

"They had checked out of the hotel, gone to the airport, boarded the plane," Jeffrey Newman said. "We understand [they] were five minutes from taking off when the Korean official came aboard, asked to see his passport then asked the stewardess to ask him to leave the plane and he left the plane with apparently no incident or drama and he's been there ever since."

Lee Newman says her husband had in place all necessary and valid travel documents to take the tour.

"We have no idea that how with the guides and the visas and the paper and the itinerary that there could be anything that could've gone off track," Lee Newman told ABC News.

The Swedish Embassy is negotiating on a daily basis on behalf of Newman because the U.S. has no diplomatic ties to North Korea, the State Department said last week.

Jeffrey Newman said it was his father's dream to return to the country where he spent three years as an infantry officer during the Korean War.

"He'd been to the peninsula before about three years ago. He was in South Korea but he'd never been to North Korea and he'd always wanted to go back," he said. "He had a great respect for the Korean people and a keen interest in the Korean culture."

Some observers have speculated that Newman may have been mistaken for a Korean War Silver Star recipient also named Merrill Newman.

"The thing that has been kicked around by media people, not me, is that I received a Silver Star for 60 years ago in Korea and I have the same name, so the question has come up, could it be that in the process of maybe Googling, like anybody can, and finding that perhaps they thought there was a connection there? I don't know. I have no way of knowing," Newman told ABC News last week from his home in Beaverton, Ore.

North Korea has detained at least six Americans since 2009, including two journalists accused of trespassing and several missionaries accused of spreading Christianity.

Kenneth Bae, a Korean-American missionary and tour operator, has been detained for more than a year.