After six weeks in North Korean detention, an 85-year-old Palo Alto man returned home to the Bay Area on Saturday and declared himself "tired but ready to be with my family."

Merrill Newman, a gray-haired Korean War vet, appeared a bit dazed Saturday morning after he was greeted at San Francisco International Airport by his wife, son and a handful of well-wishers. But he smiled broadly and told reporters: "I'm delighted to be home."

The retired business executive had advised anti-communist guerrillas as a U.S. Army officer during the Korean War in the early 1950s. Sixty years later, North Korean authorities pulled him off a plane and detained him on Oct. 26, as Newman was preparing to end a 10-day visit to their country. He was only allowed to leave after the North's release of a bizarre video in which Newman "apologized" for alleged war crimes.

But many details of his strange ordeal, including his arrest and release, remained shrouded in mystery on Saturday. Newman declined to answer most of the questions reporters tried to ask when he arrived at the San Francisco airport's international terminal.

"After Merrill comes home and has a chance to get a well-deserved rest, we will have more to say about his unusual and difficult journey," Newman's son Jeffrey had told reporters after North Korea announced his father's release Friday night.

Another retired Army officer, who helped publicize Newman's plight, said he believes the North Korean government simply concluded there was no point in drawing further condemnation for holding Newman longer.

"You've got an elderly man who's well-respected, a grandpa. And here they are putting him in the slammer for something that happened 60 years ago," said Thaddeus Taylor III, a former Army intelligence officer who was a liaison to South Korean intelligence and security agencies in the 1970s. "That didn't play well."

Taylor first alerted this newspaper to Newman's detention after hearing about it from friends of Newman's family. State Department officials had advised the family and some of Newman's old war buddies to keep quiet while diplomats sought to use Swedish back channels to free him, but Taylor said he felt public pressure would make a difference.

"The more people that knew about this, the louder the noise, the better chance Merrill had of getting busted out," Taylor said.

North Korean authorities have shown no inclination to free another American, Kenneth Bae, whom they imprisoned more than a year ago for doing Christian missionary work in the country. Taylor said he believes that's because they want to discourage other missionaries, whom the dictator Kim Jong-un views as a serious threat to his regime.

Even though Newman's ties to anti-communist fighters may have galled the North Koreans, who view their 60-year-old war with the South as unresolved, Taylor said he felt the North Koreans would reconsider Newman's detention because he had "no value" to them.

North Korean officials cited Newman's age and heart condition when they released him Friday and put him on a plane to Beijing.

Vice President Joe Biden, who was in South Korea to visit a war memorial in Seoul, spoke with Newman by phone Friday and offered him a ride home on Air Force Two. But Newman declined, telling the vice president he preferred to take a nonstop flight from Beijing to San Francisco.

On his arrival in San Francisco, Newman spoke briefly and told reporters it was "a great homecoming." He added, "Thank you all for the support that we got. I very much appreciate it."

As airport police escorted his family through the terminal, Newman told one reporter that the food he ate in North Korea was "healthy." After another asked Newman what he planned to do when he got home to Palo Alto, he quipped, "I think probably I'll take my shoes off" and added that he hopes to "relax."

He did not go directly home, however, to Palo Alto's Channing House retirement complex, where friends and neighbors had tied yellow ribbons around the building's front pillars in anticipation of his return. Late Saturday, his son released a photo of his parents relaxing on a back porch. But the location was not disclosed.

A spokeswoman for the U.S. State Department said Saturday that officials had no further information about Newman's ordeal. In a statement Friday, the department welcomed Newman's release while calling on North Korea to do the same for Bae.

U.S. Rep. Anna Eshoo, D-Palo Alto, also celebrated her constituent's release.

"Merrill and Lee Newman are beloved by the Palo Alto community, and we welcome him home with grateful hearts and open arms," said Eshoo, who met Newman and his wife when he was honored for volunteer work by the Avenidas Senior Center in Palo Alto.

Newman had visited South Korea before and met with some of his former anti-communist fighters who had fled south after the war. Before this trip, he apparently emailed them in advance and offered to deliver messages to any contacts they still had in North Korea. The North Korean authorities claimed the email as evidence of espionage.

Several weeks after his arrest, the North Korean government released the video "apology" in which Newman said he committed war crimes during his military service and "hostile acts" during his latest visit. Newman read from a handwritten statement, using stilted and ungrammatical language that fueled speculation the confession had been coerced.

Contact Brandon Bailey at 408-920-5022; follow him at Twitter.com/brandonbailey.