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Bae Released, Thanks Public 'For Not Forgetting Me'

Austin Jenkins
Northwest News Network

Kenneth Bae of Lynnwood, Wash., was free for the first time since 2012 when he landed at Joint Base Lewis-McChord south of Seattle Saturday night.

“It’s been an amazing two years,” he told reporters.

In 2012, Bae was sentenced in Pyongyang to 15 years hard labor, convicted of a Christian conspiracy to overthrow the North Korean government. Attempts by the Obama administration to secure his release were unsuccessful until last week.

That's when, secretly, President Barack Obama sent Director of National Intelligence James Clapper to North Korea in hopes of securing the release of Bae and another American, Matthew Todd Miller.

In a statement Saturday morning, Bae’s family asked for distance as Bae gets re-acclimated to his life. But by nightfall they stood before reporters gathered at Lewis-McChord and thanked the public for not forgetting their brother, uncle and son. Bae then took the lectern and spoke about his captivity and release.

“I just want to say thank you all for supporting me and lifting me up and not forgetting me.”

Bae thanked President Obama and the North Korean government.

After Bae and Miller landed, Bae was the first to walk down the stairs and onto the tarmac, luggage in hand. He was greeted and embraced by his mother, sister and nieces. His family had expressed concern for Bae’s health while he was imprisoned. Saturday night, he appeared upbeat.

“I learned a lot,” Bae said. “Grew a lot, lost a lot of weight in a good way. But I’m standing strong because of you, and thank you for being there at such a time as this.”

Since January 2004, Austin Jenkins has been the Olympia-based political reporter for the Northwest News Network. In that position, Austin covers Northwest politics and public policy, as well as the Washington State Legislature. You can also see Austin on television as host of TVW's (the C–SPAN of Washington State) Emmy-nominated public affairs program "Inside Olympia."