Kenneth Bae spent two years in a North Korean prison. On Saturday, he came home.
Bae, along with fellow American prisoner Matthew Todd Miller, landed at Joint Base Lewis-McChord in Washington state. “It’s been an amazing two years, I learned a lot, I grew a lot, I lost a lot of weight,” Bae told reporters. “I’m recovering at this time.” He thanked his supporters for “standing by me,” and thanked President Obama and the State Department for securing his release.
And then, according to his family, Bae wanted to eat pizza.
Free Kenneth Now, a group run by Bae’s friends and family, posted the following photo of Bae getting his wish on Saturday night:
His sister Terri Chung told the AP that Bae absolutely did not want to eat Korean food after his ordeal. “He said, ‘I don’t want Korean food, that’s all I’ve been eating for the last two years.’”
Instead of talking about what Bae went through during his imprisonment, Chung added, the family and friends who dined with him that first night home just focused on reconnecting with each other. “Our family loves food so we talked a lot about food,” she said. “We mostly wanted to hear from him.”
According to his family, Bae suffers from several ailments related to his brutal imprisonment in North Korea, including diabetes, an enlarged heart, back pain and a fatty liver. Bae also lost about 50 pounds during his imprisonment. He was arrested in November of 2012 and sentenced to 15 years of hard labor for what the regime said was anti-government activity.
He spent several weeks in a North Korean hospital before going home this weekend.
Later, Bae also requested Starbucks:
It’s not exactly clear what prompted North Korea to arrest Bae, who was a tour guide. However, it almost certainly had something to do with his Christian faith. North Korean officials eventually accused him of participating in a Christian conspiracy to overthrow North Korea’s government.
After hearing news of his impending release, family pastor Eugene Cho wrote about a “a tidal wave of emotions.” Cho wrote: “Kenneth was in captivity for a total of 735 days … and tonight, they will be reunited. And as I genuinely rejoice … I’m reminded of what remains: a people under a brutal regime. Approximately 24.5 million people.”
“As we rejoice over the amazing news of Kenneth Bae’s release and other Americans (today and recently), let’s not forget the people of North Korea,” Cho added.
In a statement sent to reporters Monday afternoon, Chung explained that the family was “exhausted” after the two-year ordeal and “just want to get back with our lives and reacquainted with Kenneth.” The family said that they won’t be doing further media interviews at this time: “You will not see me (Terri) on the morning network news…I don’t know when, if ever, Kenneth will want to be interviewed.”
“Kenneth’s lengthy imprisonment has exacted a physical and emotional toll on Kenneth and the rest of the family, and we cannot begin to predict the extent of the aftermath at this point. We need time to recover privately,” Chung continues, adding, “We sincerely thank those who have made Kenneth’s release possible.”
Bae and Miller, the two last known Americans imprisoned by North Korea’s government, were released following a visit from U.S. national intelligence director James Clapper, who took with him a letter from President Obama, CNN reported. North Korea agreed to release the pair after Clapper’s visit.
Dennis Rodman is also claiming credit for Bae’s return.
Rodman, who has repeatedly declined to use his friendship with North Korea’s Kim Jong Un to advocate for Bae’s release, and once implied that he believes Bae was guilty, is now telling TMZ that he sent a letter to Kim in January asking for Bae to be released.
Miller was sentenced to six years of hard labor for “hostile acts,” after the American apparently destroyed his tourist visa and demanded asylum in North Korea’s Pyongyang airport last April. A third American, Jeffrey Fowle, was released last month after being detained in the county for leaving a Bible in a public place.