Topics - U.S. Military Personnel That Defected to North Korea

 
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Six Post-War Defectors

 

Introduction

Five Americans defected to North Korea while serving in the United States Army in post-war South  Korea, never to reside in their native USA again.  One other American was said to be a defector, but he was serving in West Germany at the time of his disappearance and then his purported reappearance in North Korea.  For some time four defectors lived in the same one-room house in North Korea.  There was no furniture and no running water.  

The defectors included:

  • Abshier, Pvt. Larry Allen - deserted in 1962
  • Chung, Roy - deserted (purportedly) in 1979
  • Dresnok, James Joseph - deserted in 1962
  • Jenkins, Sgt. Charles Robert - deserted in 1965
  • Parrish, Sp. Jerry Wayne - deserted in 1963
  • White, Pvt. Joseph T. - deserted in 1982

About the Defectors

Larry Allen Abshier

The first post-war defector, Larry Abshier was reportedly a troublemaker and marijuana-smoker who defected to North Korea to avoid U.S. Army discipline.  He was a mnember of the 1st Reconnaissance Squadron, 9th Cavalry, 1st Cavalry Division.  For the rest of his short life he appeared in North Korean propaganda films and was forced to read propaganda 11 hours a day.  He was married twice.  His first wife was taken from him when his captors found out that she was pregnant.  His second wife was a Thai woman named Anocha Panjoy.  They had no children and she remarried after his death. Abshier was born in 1943 in Urbana, Illinois, and died July 11, 1983 of a heart attack in Pyongyang. 

Chung, Roy

Roy Chung was born in South Korea as Chung Ryeu.  He moved to the United States with his parents in 1973.  After joining the Army he was sent to West Germany, where he disappeared from his unit in June of 1979.  In the fall of 1979 North Korean state radio announced that Pfc. Chung had defected to North Korea.  His parents didn't believe that story and nobody has proved otherwise.

James Joseph Dresnok

James Dresnok was born on November 24, 1941 in Norfolk, Virginia.  He married Kathleen Ringwood and they were married from 1959 to 1962.  Dresnok served in West Germany for two years and then reenlisted in the Army before being deployed to the DMZ in South Korea.  Facing a court martial there for forging pass papers, he walked through a minefield to cross into North Korea on August 15, 1962.  For the next few years he was featured in North Korean propaganda.  He tried to seek asylum in the Soviet Embassy, but was rejected.  He continued to live in Pyongyang, where "Joe" taught English.  While in North Korea he was married twice and fathered three children.  His second wife was Doina Bumbea, who died in 1997.  James and Doina had children Theodore "Ted" Ricardo Dresnok and James Gabriel Dresnok.  His third wife was a North Korean and they had a son Tony.  James Joseph Dresnok died of a stroke in Pyongyang in November 2016.

Charles Robert Jenkins

Charles Robert Jenkins was born in Rich Square, North Carolina on February 18, 1940.  According to news releases about his death in 2017, Jenkins got drunk on beer and crossed into North Korea in order to avoid combat duty in Vietnam.  He was held there for 40 years as a prisoner of the North Korean government.  He was threatened, beaten, suffered from cold, and was mistreated until his life got somewhat better when he was given North Korean citizenship in 1972.  He taught English to North Korean military cadets.  He met a Japanese woman and his future wife, Hitomi Soga, in 1980.  She was kidnapped by North Koreans and ordered to teach the Japanese language and culture to spies.  She was an 18-year old student nurse at the time.  Mr. and Mrs. Jenkins were parents of two daughters, Mika and Brinda.

In 2002 Hitomi Jenkins was allowed to return to her native Japan.  Two years later her husband and daughters joined her there.  Charles Robert Jenkins was court-martialed, admitted his guilt of desertion, stripped of his rank and all back pay and benefits, and received a short jail term and dishonorable discharge.  His family continued to live on Sado Island off the west coast of Honshu until his death at the age of 77 on December 11, 2017.

He co-authored the book, The Reluctant Communist: My Desertion, Court-Martial, and Forty-Year Imprisonment in North Korea, with journalist Jim Frederick. In the book he described a less-than-wonderful life in North Korea.

Jerry Wayne Parrish

Jerry Parrish was born on March 10, 1944 in Morganfield, Kentucky.  Parrish defected to North Korea on December 6, 1963.  Although some family members never believed that Jerry defected, his closed Army buddy in Korea, Richard Contardi, led a search party to find him.  In an article entitled, "Still Out in the Cold: Thirty Years Later 4 Army defectors are alive and living in North Korea" (4/15/1996), authors Richard Jerome, Leah Eskin, Bonnie Bell, and Andrew Marton wrote: "When Parrish was listed as missing, Contardi led the search party and found only his pal's helmet, cartridge belt and a note: 'Tell mother I love her. I'll be back home some day. Tell my friends goodbye.'"

In the years that followed Jerry Parrish was used for propaganda purposes by the North Koreans.  He married a Lebanese woman, Siham Shraiteh.  They had three sons (Michael, Ricky, and ?).  Jerry Parrish, whose Korean name was Kim Yu-il, died of "massive internal infection" or possibly kidney failure on August 25, 1998.  His family continues to live in North Korea.

Joseph T. White

Born November 5, 1961, Joseph White was serving with the 1st Battalion, 31st Infantry Regiment in South Korea when he shot off the lock on a gate at the DMZ and then walked through a minefield to join the North Koreans.  His mother, Kathleen White, does not believe that her son willingly crossed the line into enemy territory, but investigators found numerous North Korean propaganda pieces and minefield maps missing from White's quarters.  Nothing about Joseph White's time in North Korea is definitive. In February of 1983 his parents received a letter from him stating that he was happy in North Korea as an English teacher.  The North Koreans told defector Charles Jenkins that White suffered an epileptic seizure and was paralyzed, but in 1986 White's parents got a letter from a North Korean who said he had befriended the American.  He said that White drowned in the Ch'ongch'on River during a leisurely outing on August 1, 1985.

 

 
 
 

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