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.
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
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.