Local man once held in Korea: ‘Change in the climate’ as Americans freed

Jeffrey Fowle of West Carrollton was arrested in North Korea four years ago this week. FILE
Caption
Jeffrey Fowle of West Carrollton was arrested in North Korea four years ago this week. FILE

When three Americans freed by North Korea returned to United States soil, few people could relate as well as Jeffrey Fowle.

Monday was the fourth anniversary of the West Carrollton resident’s arrest in the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea.

“The anticipation of coming back home and meeting my family and getting back to the United States was worth any longer than normal wait,” said the Beavercreek High School graduate, who was 56 years old when stepped off a plane Oct. 21, 2014, after being detained for nearly six months.

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As sweet as it was, Fowle said his reunion with family on the tarmac at Wright-Patterson Air Force Base after a 22-hour flight could not be quite the same as feelings Kim Dong Chul, Kim Hak Song and Tony Kim must have had when they ended their trip back to the U.S. at Joint Base Andrews in Maryland.

“They’ve been gone longer than I had,” he said. “So they’re ready to get back to the life they knew here in the United States.”

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Kim Dong Chul had been in custody since late 2015 after being arrested on spying charges, CNN reported. North Korea sentenced him to 10 years’ hard labor in April 2016.

Nearly one year later, Tony Kim and Kim Hak Song were arrested. Both worked at the Pyongyang University of Science and Technology and were accused of carrying out “hostile acts” against the Kim Jong Un regime.

Fowle was arrested after leaving a Bible in a public restroom. He said he was taken into custody May 7, 2014, after being detained while going through customs at an airport en route to China.

RELATED: Local man held in North Korea loses job with city of Moraine

While the detainment is “something I’ll never forget,” Fowle said he spent much of his time in custody in isolation. He told this news organization in 2014 that his routine consisted of being held in a hotel room and being given three meals a day while spending about 23 hours a day by himself.

“I was never in prisoner status,” he said Wednesday night, “like most of the other folks.”

One of whom was fellow Ohioan Otto Warmbier, who died last June, days after his release from North Korea, where he was arrested in January 2016. The suburban Cincinnati native was imprisoned by North Korea and sentenced to 15 years of hard labor for stealing a poster.

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The 22-year-old was released in a vegetative state, and his parents have filed a wrongful death lawsuit, accusing the government of torturing and killing their son.

Fowle has acknowledged he was fortunate to return in fairly good health and go back to his longtime street department job with the city of Moraine, where he began working in 1988.

“I was blessed with being able to come back to kind of the same routine that I had before - for the most part,” he said. “I was given my job back….And life here on the farm – as we call it – is good.”

RELATED: Former North Korean captive Fowle receiving hundreds of interview requests

With talks of a U.S./North Korea summit on the horizon between President Donald Trump and Kim Jong Un, Fowle said he sees reason to hope that the climate that led to his detainment in the Asian country — and what he called “pretty horrific” human rights conditions — may change.

“I’m guardedly optimistic,” he said. “I’m hoping this might be an opportunity to finally bring North Korea finally into the community of normal countries.

“It’s premature making any predictions at this point,” Fowle added. “There’s a change in the climate, politically, which is good. It’s a positive thing.”

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