CHICAGO (AP) – Looking exhausted and being pushed in a wheelchair, American John Yettaw returned to the United States on Wednesday after being freed from a hard-labor prison sentence for his nighttime swim to the home of Myanmar’s detained democracy icon.

Yettaw, 53, was wearing a blue surgical mask and clutching a green Harrods bag as a woman pushed him through Chicago’s O’Hare International Airport – the next to last stage of a nearly 24-hour trip from Bangkok to southwest Missouri. Yettaw, who has been ill since his arrest in Myanmar, wore the mask to guard against infection.

The American is from the tiny south-central Missouri town of Falcon, but he generated global headlines after he was arrested and sentenced to hard labor for visiting the home of democracy leader Aung San Suu Kyi. Yettaw was deported Sunday after the intervention of U.S. Sen. Jim Webb, D-Va.

In Chicago, news photographers and bystanders snapped pictures of Yettaw, who was wearing a wrinkled button-down shirt and khaki pants, as he was moved through the airport.

As he waited for his flight from Chicago to his final destination, Springfield, Mo., Yettaw sat with his head in his hands, his eyes bloodshot. An Associated Press reporter approached him, but his companion, who did not identify herself, said he was “very tired.”

He flashed the sign language symbol for “I love you” to the reporter but said nothing.

Back in Myanmar, Suu Kyi and her two live-in aides remain in detention because of Yettaw’s visit. Suu Kyi’s lawyers said Yettaw’s release was a “very ugly” turn.

“It’s very ugly that the person who caused the problem was released, but the three people in the house remain detained,” Suu Kyi said, according to attorney Nyan Win who visited her Monday.

Yettaw flew with Webb to neighboring Thailand on a U.S. government plane Sunday and underwent two days of medical tests at a private Bangkok hospital.

Webb said Yettaw had suffered a “medical incident” just before leaving Myanmar as authorities there read him his deportation order. While in custody in a Yangon jail during his trial, he had a seizure and was hospitalized for a week. He also reportedly suffers from diabetes and asthma.

Yettaw looked pale and haggard Wednesday morning as he prepared to board a plane in Bangkok. Asked about his health, he only pointed to the IV needle inserted in the back of his right hand.

The nurse held Yettaw’s other hand as he was wheeled to a business class lounge at Bangkok’s Suvarnabhumi Airport and told a reporter “he needs rest.”

Yettaw, a Mormon who lives on a military pension from serving in the Army for about a year in 1973, traveled to Myanmar in early May and donned homemade flippers for a nighttime swim to Suu Kyi’s lakeside home. The incident led to a trial that sparked global condemnation in which Suu Kyi was sentenced to an additional 18 months of detention for breaching the terms of her house arrest. She has already spent 14 of the past 20 years in detention.

Yettaw testified that he was on a divine mission to save the democracy leader, saying he had a “vision” she was going to be assassinated and wanted to warn her. Suu Kyi testified that she repeatedly asked Yettaw to leave but relented because he complained of exhaustion and she was concerned for his safety.


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