As autumn descended on a Korean countryside devastated by three years of intense war, a group of anti-communist guerrillas presented U.S. serviceman Merrill Edward Newman with a gold ring. It was September, 1953.
For Newman, the ring became a proud symbol of the role he played as an adviser to a group of battle-hardened partisans who fought deep behind enemy lines in a war that pitted the China- and Soviet-backed North against the U.S.-backed South.
Now, six decades on, the 85-year-old pensioner who lives in a retirement community in California, has become one of the last prisoners of that war. He returned to North Korea last month as an American tourist and was snatched by authorities from his plane moments before it was due to depart for Beijing.
When he returned to the isolated state, he was taking a risk, former guerrillas who knew Newman said. The North Korean regime has nourished memories of the 1950-53 Korean War as the inspiration for the country's identity and acts as if the conflict is still happening.