Tony Kim, Kim Hak-Song and Kim Dong-Chul, the Americans who were North Korean prisoners, arrived back on U.S. soil, and walked out of the airplane flashing peace signs as they were greeted by the president. You can see photos and video of the freed prisoners’ arrival at Joint Base Andrews below.
Pesident Donald Trump and his wife, Melania, were waiting to greet them at Joint Base Andrews. The three prisoners were each incarcerated for periods ranging from one to two years. Trump heralded their release as a key step in the process toward removing the nuclear threat from the Korean peninsula.
Here’s another photo as the men arrived:
You can watch a livestream video of the arrival below. “This is a special night for these really great people,” Trump said. “It’s like a dream,” one of the freed prisoners told the media. Trump called the release a “new footing” with North Korea. “I really think he wants to do something… and I think we will have a success,” he said of Kim Jong-Un. “…A lot of progress has been made.”
Here is the live video from Joint Base Andrews’ Facebook page.
A large American flag was draped at the scene of the arrival. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo preceded the men in arriving, and he stood to greet them with Vice President Mike Pence, and his wife, Karen.
“Looking forward to greeting the Hostages (no longer) at 2:00 A.M.,” President Donald Trump tweeted before going to Joint Base Andrews. The three freed Americans released a statement praising the United States. “We would like to express our deep appreciation to the United States government, President Trump, Secretary Pompeo, and the people of the United States for bringing us home. We thank God, and all of our families and friends who prayed for us and for our return. God Bless America, the greatest nation in the world.”
According to The Associated Press, North Korea accused the men of “anti-state activities” but their imprisonment was widely considered to be politically motivated.
Tony Kim also goes by the name Kim Sang Duk. Tony Kim was detained while working as a professor at Pyongyang University of Science and Technology (PUST), which, according to CNN, “bills itself as the only privately run university in the North Korean capital.” He taught accounting and business at the school, CNN reported.
“We are very grateful for the release of our husband and father, Tony Kim, and the other two American detainees. We want to thank all of those who have worked toward and contributed to his return home. We also want to thank the President for engaging directly with North Korea. Mostly, we thank God for Tony’s safe return,” Tony Kim’s family said in a May 9, 2018 statement. An older Facebook page in Tony Kim’s name said he studied at University of California, Riverside and at Aurora University.
According to CNN, Kim Hak-song worked at the same university as Tony Kim and was trying to help the North Koreans grow food.
He is “an agricultural expert who’d been teaching rice-growing at the university,” the network reported. According to ABC 13, Hak-Song “worked on an experimental farm run by the university.”
According to USA Today, “Kim is an ethnic Korean born in China. He studied in California and became a U.S. citizen in the 2000s but never forgot his roots.” His friend, David Kim, told CNN: “He was a very diligent, hardworking man determined to help people in North Korea.”
Kim Dong-Chul is a U.S. citizen who was born in South Korea and was imprisoned for the longest time period of the three men. “The former Virginia resident was sentenced in April 2016 to 10 years in prison with hard labor after being convicted of espionage. He reportedly ran a trade and hotel service company in Rason, a special economic zone on North Korea’s border with Russia,” reported AP.
North Korea released a photo of Secretary of State Mike Pompeo with Kim Jong-Un along with a glowing statement praising Pompeo and President Trump. A dispatch from the North Korean government stated that Kim Jong Un “warmly greeted Mike Pompeo and sincerely congratulated him on his recent official assumption as secretary of State…Mike Pompeo expressed thanks to Kim Jong Un for sparing time to meet him, saying that he came to the DPRK to personally convey the verbal message of the U.S. president and prepare the DPRK-U.S. summit…After hearing the verbal message, Kim Jong Un expressed thanks, highly appreciating that the U.S. president has shown deep interest in settling the issue through dialogue.”
Of course, not every American was returned to U.S. soil in good shape. Many remember the story of Otto Warmbier, the American college student who was arrested and subjected to a show trial for taking a propaganda poster while on a North Korean tour; he was returned to his parents in a vegetative state and died almost immediately thereafter.
His parents described the Ohioan as “a warm, engaging, brilliant young man whose curiosity and enthusiasm for life knew no bounds.” Donald Trump mentioned Warmbier in brief remarks after welcoming the freed prisoners, and stated that Otto’s parents are spectacular people with whom he’s recently spoken.