Americans freed by North Korea reunite with families at JBLM

  • Published
  • By Staff Sgt. Russ Jackson
  • 62nd Airlift Wing Public Affairs
The long wait for the families of Kenneth Bae and Matthew Miller officially ended November 8th, 2014, when the two men stepped off their plane onto the tarmac at Joint Base Lewis-McChord, Wash., after being imprisoned in North Korea.

James Clapper, U.S. Director of National Intelligence went to Pyongyang, North Korea and secured the release of the two men after meeting with North Korean officials. Together, Bae and Miller flew back to the United States arriving at JBLM where they were received by their families.

After the plane touched down, Bae exited first and was met by his mother who immediately embraced him. Then, other members of his family welcomed him home with hugs, kisses and tears of joy. Col David Kumashiro, 62nd Airlift Wing commander, escorted Bae and his family into the McChord Field Passenger Terminal.

"It's been an amazing two years. I learned a lot. I grew a lot. I lost a lot of weight in a good way," Bae said with a smile. "But I am standing strong because of you."

Bae is from Lynnwood, Wash., and had been running a tourism company in China. As part of a tour in November of 2012, he led a group of tourists into North Korea where he was arrested and accused of trying to overthrow the government. He was sentenced to 15 years of hard labor.

After a short reunion, Bae and his family addressed the media expressing their gratitude and relief that the ordeal had finally ended.

"We're finally here, my brother is home. All of our hopes and prayers for this moment have finally come true. We are so thankful," said Terri Chung, Bae's sister. "As we celebrate tonight, as we are together, we know there are many people in North Korea locked up like Kenneth was, and they remain apart from their families tonight. Please don't forget them. We will not."

Bae was very gracious to all those who helped bring him home, including to North Korea.

"I'd like to thank the DPRK North Korean government [for] allowing me to come home and be united with our family," Bae said.

He then spoke of his appreciation to the American public.

"Thank you for all your support and prayers and your love," he said.

After Bae and his family were inside McChord Field's Passenger Terminal, Miller's family members approached the aircraft to greet him as he deplaned. Kumashiro welcomed Miller home and escorted him into the terminal. Miller, a native from Bakersfield, Calif., and his family chose not to address the media and quietly exited the base.

Miller served about seven months in a North Korean prison after being sentenced to six years hard labor for espionage after allegedly ripping up his passport and seeking asylum upon his entry into North Korea.

As soon as JBLM leaders discovered they would be hosting the arrival of Bae and Miller, they quickly sprang into action alerting Airmen to prepare for their return home. While the day was long for many of the Airmen, most were happy to be part of such a momentous occasion.

"This is amazing," said Staff Sgt. Reuben McClendon, 62nd Airlift Wing protocol. "We're all a part of history."

Bae and Miller were the last two American's being held in North Korea.