How did an 85-year old grandfather from Palo Alto, California, end up a prisoner in North Korea? The Last POW is the true story of Merrill Newman, a retired Silicon Valley executive and Korean War veteran who was hauled off his plane at Pyongyang airport as he was about to return home at the end of a tourist trip in late 2013. For nearly two months, he was held by North Korea's fearsome security services, subjected to intensive interrogation, and repeatedly warned that if he did not confess his "crimes", he might never be allowed to return home. In visiting the North, Newman was returning for a final glimpse of the country where he had served a half century earlier. Perhaps naively—and in sharp contrast to America's former enemies, Japan, Germany, and Vietnam—he did not realize that for the North Koreans, the war had never ended. His role in 1953 as a US military adviser to the "Kuwol Comrades"—anti-communist Korean guerrillas who fought behind North Korean lines—convinced a paranoid North Korean regime that despite his age, his heart condition, and the passage of time, Newman was a dangerous "enemy" agent.
The Last POW is the exclusive account of Newman's ordeal—how the North Koreans tried, without success, to break his will; his interactions with his sinister interrogator and the other North Koreans involved in his detention; the "confession" he was forced to broadcast; and how he tried to signal he was being coerced. While Merrill was detained in Pyongyang, his family—his wife, Lee, living in a retirement home in Palo Alto; and his son and daughter-in-law in Pasadena—were frantically trying to determine what had happened to him and what they could do to secure his freedom. Newman's detention became a symbol of the seemingly irreconcilable differences that keep North Korea and the US in a permanent state of tension and revealed the inner workings of the security apparatus of one of the world's most totalitarian states. Eventually his case would involve the State Department, the international news media, eccentric former basketball player Dennis Rodman, and possibly North Korean leader Kim Jong Un himself. His story serves as a warning against underestimating the lengths to which a paranoid and secretive regime will go to defend what it perceives as a threat to its security or reputation. But it is also an inspiring tale of an ordinary American family's courage and resilience in a situation as frightening as it was bizarre.