New details on California grandfather held hostage in North Korea
by Patrick May
The bizarre and baffling tale of an elderly Palo Alto man who's been detained by North Korea for more than a month grew even more mysterious Saturday as new details emerged about his role during the Korean War secretly training anti-communist guerrillas fighting behind enemy lines.
New revelations that 85-year-old Merrill Edward Newman had served in a once-top-secret U.S. Army unit nicknamed the “White Tigers'' explains why the North Koreans detained the retired corporate finance executive last month as Newman was about to leave with a fellow Palo Alto traveler after a 10-day visit.
Since the North Koreans believe that the war with South Korea and the United States technically never ended because no peace treaty was ever signed, Newman is now essentially a “prisoner of war” in a conflict that took place six decades ago.
Many of the revelations also shed light on the videotaped “apology'' that Newman gave his captors Nov. 9, when he purportedly admitted committing crimes during the war as well as “hostile acts'' against the state during last month's visit. Many details are contained in a lengthy new Reuters News report and U.S. Army documents that were unclassified in the early 1990s.
In the rambling “confession,” which the North Koreans released Friday, Newman ostensibly accepts responsibility for helping a guerrilla group called the Kuwol Partisan Regiment — which was under the command of the U.S. Army's 8240th Unit — attack and kill North Korean soldiers as civil war was raging throughout the peninsula. But he does not mention the group by name.
“As I killed so many civilians and KPA (Korean People's Army) soldiers and destroyed strategic objects in the DPRK (Democratic People's Republic of Korea) during the Korean War,'' Newman said in the video, reading aloud from a handwritten statement, “I committed indelible offensive acts against the DPRK government and Korean people.”
In the video, Newman seems at ease as he reads aloud from a handwritten statement in a wood-paneled room. At the end, he bows and places a fingerprint on the document.
This photo taken Nov. 9, 2013, and released Nov. 30, 2013, by North Korea's official Korean Central News Agency shows Merrill Newman inking his thumbprint onto a written apology for his alleged crimes as a tourist and during his participation in the Korean War, while under detention in Pyongyang, North Korea. (KCNA)
“I realize that I cannot be forgiven for my offensives (offenses) but I beg for pardon on my knees by apologizing for my offensives (offenses) sincerely toward the DPRK government and the Korean people, and I want not punish me,” Newman, who has heart problems, was quoted as saying in often ungrammatical and stilted English by the North's KCNA news agency. It characterized him as a mastermind of clandestine operations and accused him of killing civilians during the war.
According to a lengthy report from Reuters Saturday, the Kuwol Regiment, or “Kuwolsan” in Korean, meaning “September Mountain,” was named after a mountain in western North Korea where the guerrillas sought refuge as soldiers of the KPA swept down the Korean peninsula when war broke out.
From there, the guerrillas fought their way to North Korea's west coast and sailed to offshore islands where they launched last-ditch battles against the North Korean army. Newman, according to several former fighters interviewed by Reuters, was their adviser. They said the North Koreans have probably known about him for years.
“Those bastards already knew Newman before the war was over,” Kim Chang-sun, who was still at school in 1953 when he joined the guerrilla regiment that Newman helped train, told Reuters. “They obtained the roster of our entire regiment.”
The new information about Newman's wartime record raises a big question: Why would the Palo Alto grandfather undertake such a risky trip to North Korea, assuming authorities there knew all about Newman's past? He had already made two trips to South Korea in the last decade, according to Reuters, which published photos of Newman posing with the former guerrillas both in South Korea and in Palo Alto.
“In the eyes of the North Koreans, he would have literally been a spy engaging in some kind of espionage activity ... I wouldn't go there (if I were him),” Kim Hyeon, now 86, told Reuters. He has kept in touch with Newman and even visited him in Palo Alto in 2004.
Even more intriguing in the video was Newman's alleged admission during this most recent trip that he “had a plan to meet any surviving soldiers and pray for the souls of the dead soldiers. Following the itinerary I asked my guide to help me look for the surviving soldiers and their families and descendants because it was too hard for me to do myself.”
For Newman, “the Korean War ended 60 years ago, and it looks to me like he was trying to get some closure on that experience,” said Dan Sneider, a North Korea expert at Stanford's Shorenstein Asia-Pacific Research Center. “But for the North Koreans, the war is not over, and in many ways they're still fighting it. And it seems that Mr. Newman inadvertently walked into an historical minefield that he wasn't fully aware of. I hope the North Koreans are about to release him, but we'll find out soon enough.”
The White House and the State Department on Saturday urged North Korea to set Newman free, particularly in light of his age and heart problems.
A State Department official who requested anonymity told this newspaper that while American authorities had seen the report on Newman's alleged confession, the U.S. government was unsure why the North Koreans were still holding him.
“According to the report,” the statement said, “Mr. Newman apologized for the misunderstanding that led to his detention. We have no other information regarding the reason for his detention. Given Mr. Newman's advanced age and health conditions, we urge the DPRK to release Mr. Newman so he may return home and reunite with his family.”
Members of Newman's family released a statement Saturday that did not address the new videotape or subsequent revelations. But the statement said that the State Department had told the family that the Swedish ambassador to North Korea had visited Newman on Saturday at a Pyongyang hotel and found him to be in good health.
“He has received the medications that we sent him and medical personnel are checking on his health several times a day,” the statement said. “Merrill reports that he is being well treated and that the food is good.”
The Kuwolsan soldiers are depicted in popular culture in South Korea as heroes in the fight against communism. The regiment and its guerrillas were the subject of a 1965 film called “Blood-Soaked Mt. Kuwol.”
Kim Chang-sun, the former guerrilla, recalled Newman as a big American military officer with a warm heart who supervised their training and landing operations. “He had this U.S. Army food box and shared that with us,” said Kim, now 81. “He stayed with us at a bunker.”
While Newman's motives for traveling to North Korea remain elusive, his own words raise the possibility that he was somehow trying to make amends with his own past or attempting to help the families of the men he had grown so close to while training them to kill.
“Kuwolsan was among the most effective guerrilla warfare units,” Newman wrote in a message attached to a book published by the Kuwolsan Guerrilla Unit Comrade Association in Seoul. “I am proud to have served with you.”
How to keep your car, belongings secure this holiday season
by Gregory J. Wilcox
It happened in seconds.
The man wearing black warm-up pants, black gloves and a black hoodie casually approached the white car in a strip-mall parking lot, smashed the passenger window with a punch tool, grabbed a package off the seat and strolled away.
He made little noise, his moves were precise, and he did not look out of place in the Woodland Hills shopping area on the south side of Victory Boulevard at Owensmouth Avenue. The half a dozen cops on scene made no attempt to collar him.
The thief was actually LAPD Senior Lead Officer Sam Sabra, and he had just made an important point: If you want to stay happy this holiday season, keep your car secure while shopping.
That was the message of the LAPD's “Lock It, Hide It, Keep It,” an anti-auto burglary program first rolled out in the east San Fernando Valley in 2010 and now implemented citywide.
“It's the holiday shopping season, and too many cars will get burglarized,” said City Councilman Bob Blumenfield, who organized the demonstration with police officers from the LAPD's Topanga Community Police Station. “Every one of us needs to take the steps we can take to have a safe holiday season.”
Thefts from vehicles are a persistent problem in the city. Through the latter part of November, there have been 23,265, down 1 percent from 23,531 in the same period a year earlier — but up 3 percent from 22,614 in the first 11 months of 2011, police noted.
This is a good time of year to re-focus attention on Lock It, Hide It, Keep It. “People make it easier for (thieves) to smash a window and snatch stuff our of their vehicle,” said crime prevention officer Leon Tsap. “If people harden the target a little bit, these crimes of opportunity are not gong to be there. People need to harden the target as much as possible.”
Part of this problem, he admitted, is simply human nature. “Most people are good citizens and trust other people. They don't think anyone is going to do such a thing. That's why people leave stuff in their cars and don't even think about it. They make it easier for people to take their hard-earned stuff,” Tsap said.
Capt. Joel Justice of the Topanga Division said shoppers can take simple, common sense steps to make sure they leave malls and stores with the merchandise they came in to purchase.
Don't leave valuables in plain view on car seats, he advised. Cover them up or lock them in the trunk or glove box. If you return to your car with bags full of valuables, move the vehicle to a different parking spot in the event a thief is watching. And always remember to lock your car.
Though these are crime-stopping tools that work all year long, Justice said, “For the last several years, we have been deploying a lot of people in the malls, so (staffing) hasn't increased dramatically — but it does increase during the holiday season.”
Area police have an “app” for that
by Maria Papadopoulos
WHITMAN — Whitman Police Chief Scott Benton has reached thousands with posts through Facebook and Twitter – and now, there's a new “app” for his department.
The department's “MyPD” cell phone application went live last week – and Benton said officers have already received crime tips through the smart phone application.
“The detectives, they get the tip, they're going to act on it first,” Benton said Monday.
Whitman is now one of several area police departments, including Brockton, Stoughton, Taunton, Norton, Wareham, Milton and Braintree, using the “MyPD” application.
With a swipe and tap, app users can submit crime tips, access a list of department phone numbers, learn more about sex offenders and wanted persons in their area, and read the latest tweets from their police department. They can also commend an officer who has done an exceptional job.
Stoughton police were among the first in the region to roll out the application more than a year ago, said Stoughton Deputy Police Chief Robert Devine.
“We wanted to increase our interactivity with our public,” said Devine. “It was part of our overarching philosophy to increase transparency.”
Devine said the department receives several crime tips through the application each day. People can leave a tip anonymously, and tipsters typically contact Stoughton police about drug cases, he said.
“People may not necessarily want to pick up the phone if they see something suspicious going on in their neighborhoods, but they feel more comfortable sending a tip anonymously,” Devine said.
Area police praised the application for assisting officers with community policing.
“As far as policing goes, we can't do this on our own,” Devine said.
Brockton Police Chief Emanuel Gomes said the department launched the application last month.
“Anything that can enhance communication between the public and the police department is going to be a plus,” Gomes said. “Facebook, all these things just facilitate communication.”
The application can be downloaded for free by searching for MyPD in the iPhone or Android marketplace. Area police departments pay a onetime fee of about $500 to join the system, Devine said.
Crime tips, for example, that are sent with the application land in the e-mail box of area police detectives, who then begin investigating, police said.
“Let's face it, everybody walks around with a smart phone,” Benton said. “It just makes sense to open up that mode of communication. I think that more people will use that.”