(Joint Base Lewis-McChord, Wash.) Nov. 8, 2014 – It was an emotional evening for Seattle resident Kenneth Bae, 46, after he and fellow American Matthew Todd-Miller, 25, were repatriated to the U.S. on Nov. 8, 2014 after their imprisonment in North Korea for “crimes against their state.” Reuters timing to call me was unbelievably timely as the call came in the middle of the afternoon while I was at the Army-half of the Joint Base attending a military retirement ceremony for a colleague. Our Reuters North American photo desk in Toronto called me late Saturday afternoon as I was changing out of my National Guard uniform and was about to head home to Seattle. LUCKILY, I didn’t head North on I-5 yet. I was advised by our Reuters Picture Assignment Editors that Seattle resident Kenneth Bae, an American tour guide who was arrested by the North Korean government in 2012 with charges of espionage, along with Miller, another American prisoner, were being repatriated home to the United States aboard a U.S. Air Force jet (ironically, piloted by my DEAR FRIEND and colleague U.S. Air Force Lt. Col. “Beerman”) that was to land in the middle of the Saturday night. Well there we were, the visual media hoardes (mostly TV, only a few still photojournalists) had to convene at the Main Gate to McChord Field to be escorted to the tarmac arrival point where Bae and Miller would descend a jet’s airstair to be reunited with their families. And in the case of Bae, that would be 15 months of incarceration in a North Korean prison while Miller was captive since last April.
In what has to be one of the rarest, most civil breaking news events, especially since it was good news for a change (unlike Marysville-Pilchuk shooting last month), (1) the weather was cool but bone dry and (2) the damn airplane was ON TIME (thank you “Beerman”). That said, good company like old friend (and competitor) Seattle AP staff photojournalist Ted Warren and I kept a light mood and good catchup chat as friends that really only get to see each other on the streets at work rather than at a pub like The Hub in Tacoma’s Old Towne. TV videojournalist friend Kevin Ely and stringer still shooter David Ryder helped me out as a second shooter for the arrival along with the Seattle Times’ new, young resident Lindsey Wasson who had NO LONG GLASS at all to get the super far “throw” from the photo position to the aircraft’s arrival point. I truly felt bad for her and the Seattle Times photo staff should have better prepared her to have the right gear to cover CLEARLY the biggest story in North America during that day. If I had another 400mm/f2.8, I surely would have loaned it to her, but I didn’t of course
Nonetheless, when Bae debarked the aircraft in a calm but clearly relieved and happy demeanor, it was a touching moment for Ted Warren/AP and I as Bae embraced his mother Myung Hee Bae in a welcome home hug after being incarcerated for 15 months doing hard labor in a North Korean prison. It’s days like these that revive the (my) soul as a visual journalist that has had to cover a fair share of bad news and disasters. With Thanksgiving just two weeks away, I couldn’t think of a better way to enliven my spirit and head into this Holiday season with such good juju.
Photo by Anthony Bolante/REUTERS [Follow me on Twitter: @TheImageArsenal]