ROK Drop

Avatar of GI KoreaBy on February 23rd, 2007 at 12:28 am

GI Flashbacks: The 1982 Defection of PFC Joseph White

Robert Neff from the Marmot’s Hole has posted an interesting article in the Asia Times about the 1982 defection of PFC Joseph White to North Korea.  PFC White would remain in North Korea for only three more years until he supposedly died while drowning in a river.  The reason for PFC White’s defection has been a matter of controversy for years.

Here is the theory from the article that I would put money on:

There is another theory. One American soldier claims that White fell in love with a North Korean agent in a club in the village of Bongilchon and that she disappeared on the same day White did. Allegedly she either guided him to the North Korean positions or she met him in the North.

PFC White was an introvert and when he enlisted in the military and was posted in Korea; he became a big fan of the ville culture.  PFC White probably never had such attention showered on from women before and enjoyed the attention from the Korean women in the ville so much that he even wrote letters home to his mom about it.  I don’t think it is too far fetched of an idea that a woman is the reason he defected.

I have seen soldiers do many stupid and criminal things due to juicy girls in the ville, so the possibility that PFC White defected due to juicy girl is definitely plausible to me.  Anyway interesting read and I encourage everyone to check it out.

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  • steve
    11:01 pm on February 22nd, 2007 1

    I already posted this at Marmot's hole:

    "I was in the ROK in 1982 and in the Army. As I recall it was classic case of the a soldier told he couldn’t see his ‘yobo’ (not used in the Korean sense, with the GIs it was a kept woman).

    He was shacked up with a girl from one of the clubs. Had trouble with his 1st SGT and had his pass pulled.

    I have seen many a fellow do really stupid things when facing separation from their girl friend.

    The dating a north korean agent sounds like urban myth stuff."

    I'm sure you, GI Korea, have seen lots of this too. A common, while sad, tale of a young soldier who messes his life up because of the ville.

  • Rich
    5:32 pm on February 23rd, 2007 2

    Hear pretty much the same story about White, I had also heard a rumor that his body had been found floating down the Imjin with his throat slit, perhaps this is untrue..

  • GI Korea
    12:12 am on February 24th, 2007 3


    Some people that I know that served in Korea in the early 80's told me the same thing but I have never read anything that proves that. I think it is just an urban legend that was passed around to discourage soldiers from defecting.

    8:09 am on February 24th, 2007 4

    I remembered when White defected to North, his mother was in denial. Her exact words were "My son is Peanut Butter and Jelly Sandwich all American boy."

  • Avatar of GI KoreaGI Korea
    11:44 am on February 24th, 2007 5

    He may have been but I have seen plenty of American boys lives go down the drain quickly because of drinky girls, so I'm sure the yobos back 82 altered peoples behavior just as much then as the juicy girls do now.

  • Kent Duke
    5:10 am on March 18th, 2007 6

    I was at Casey when that shithead went North and I heard the same old thing. It was a YOBO and top was on his ass.

  • CQ82
    11:50 pm on April 9th, 2008 7

    I was Division CQ the evening PFC White was captured. I was ordered to hand deliver the news of his capture to three Battalion HQs, my own, the 122nd Signal Bn at Camp casey Korea. The message that went out to our division commanders that morning was "US soldier captured by North Korean infiltrators on DML" It is my understanding that IR photography confirms White being lead away from Oulette at gunpoint, and the lock was shot off his gaurdpost from outside, not inside as otherwise claimed.

    PFC is a POW and should be treated as such. The fact he had a pass pulled (who didn't) and he didn't get along famously with his sergeabt (who did) and that he had scores of propganda leaflets (who didn't) in his footlocker – are all red herrings by a government who is perfectly happy leaving a man behind. They didn't want to start a war, period. Now I say we bring White home. If he died, it was while in North korean custody…but his death, like his capture has most likely been greatly exagerated.

    SOUND OFF 2nd D !! Leave No man behind !!

  • GI Korea
    12:47 am on April 10th, 2008 8

    According to Robert Neff's article the lock was shot from the inside which I'm sure ballistic analysis would be able to confirm if it was an M16 or not that shot it. Also sensitive items were left in the outpost that I would presume a North Korean raiding team would have taken instead of leaving behind. Finally there was witnesses that saw him walk across the DMZ by himself before being grabbed by North Koreans on the North's side of the MDL.

    According to the information available the kid defected and it appears even his family accepts this now.

  • Edward R. Kline
    12:30 am on August 8th, 2008 9

    Pfc White defected plain and simple. I was stationed their in 82. From the land of the morning calm. To fishheads and rice 24/7. Have a nice life.

  • CalmSeas
    3:42 am on August 8th, 2008 10

    "a North Korean agent in a club in the village of Bongilchon…"

    We are talking book rights here… :razz:

  • SemblenceOfSanity
    3:47 pm on May 27th, 2009 11

    I was stationed at Camp Howze (Bongilchon) from Feb '83- Feb '84, by that time PFC White's "defection" was talked about very little. In fact, the "tree trimming incident" of years prior was talked about 100 times more often than White. For about 8 months of my year there, I was the bases' C.C.I., working out of the base dispensery and had a close working relationship with all of the "working" girls, mamasans', and bar owners in the 'ville. At that time there was anywhere from 110 to 150 working girls in Bongilchon on any given week (including "yobo's"), and I did my best to keep track of them. As for the theory that white's yobo was a North Korean spy, I have to laugh. What a waste of time for an intel agency to have a spy posing as a working girl in a town where officers were prohibited from "partaking" in the women there. A very small number of NCO's on that base had access to sensitive intel, and even fewer numbers of privates. I can say that a lot of the girls did pump me rigorously, but not for information :shock: .

  • J. Moore
    2:11 pm on August 17th, 2009 12

    Yes Joe defected. No more, no less. He shot the lock off the gate and left. The story posted is pretty good but leaves out a lot of the details of that night.

    I don't know if Joe had a Yobo or not. One of the reasons Top was on his ass was about PT. The boy could not run at all. Always falling out of runs and if I remember right he failed a PT test. He was quiet, kinda strange but otherwise seemed allright. Rumour had that they found him floating in the Imjin river in '85 when I was back there a second time.

    That will be one night that I will never forget. CQ82 you are so wrong. I was there, I talked to the guys in my unit that morning on the guard post. I heard the Company Commander tell the rest of the officers and others what happened. I drew his and the XO's sidearms from the armoury that night. Joe left on his own of his own will.

    BTW, the Wild Bunch was Alpha Co. Not the whole battalion.

  • Manchu1-9
    8:21 pm on December 16th, 2009 13

    GI Korea

    "passed around to discourage soldiers from defecting"

    I was there the night it happened,to your quote,maybe urban ledgend,maybe not,young and dumb as he might have been,and there were many,you'd have to have your head up your ass before you got to the turtle farm to believe the propaganda,Me thinks it was the furry end of a tube that got him to chogie,I also heard he fell out and Top was on his ass to,but that furry end of a tube got him to cut a chogie more than Top

    J. Moore's right,he did shoot the lock,he did yell out in Korean so they wouldn't wax his ass.

    And yes,the Wild bunch was A-1/31st

    Regiment was the Polar Bears

    Just as is Cobra is C-1/9th


  • guitard
    9:40 pm on December 16th, 2009 14

    Found by whom…the North Koreans? Why in the world would they say that someone slit his throat and tossed him in the river? How would that benefit North Korea?

  • William A. Morgan
    7:38 pm on February 19th, 2010 15

    Does anyone remember see the video after his defection or the propaganda leaflets with his picture? Well anyway it appears that the morning that he defected the NK waited until sunrise or close to it to film him still inside of the dmz(foggy that morning) saying that he wanted to defect and that the US should get out of south korea. It seems like to me he was coached on what to say. Now on the propaganda leaflet, the picture taken of him and the two NK girls was shot from a high angle suggesting just as the leaflet, propaganda. I believe he wanted to return home but NK would not let him so they did away with him.

  • Connie
    3:56 pm on March 24th, 2011 16

    Like a lot of you who have already posted, I was there in 82. I was in the Division TOC that day, and like most of you, I agree that he defected. I don't know why, and for his family's sake, I wish we did. I think its possible the NKs got tired of dealing with him and killed him, but who knows? As for "an urban legend that was passed around to discourage soldiers from defecting", Most of us didn't need any discouraging. We were perfectly content to stay on our side of the "Z".

  • c-launch
    12:48 am on March 25th, 2011 17

    I was at the DMZ (III Marine Div) and Panmunjom in March of '83. During a briefing by an Army officer there we were told that PFC White had been denied the opportunity to see his Korean girlfriend (nothing mentioned about all the spy stuff) and became embittered and angry and that this is the working theory about why he defected. I believe this is why he did this desperate but stupid thing. During isolation, longing can become powerful and surreal. Too bad he couldn't keep his head rational.

  • William R. Cashwell
    3:08 pm on September 10th, 2011 18

    I was in Korea from Jan. 1973 until Feb. 1974 at Camp Howze and again at Camp Hovey Feb. 1975 until Apr. 1976. What ever his reason for desertion was not very smart and he needs to stay in North Korea. when I was stationed at Camp Hovey we had private go AWOL in the field. It was February and snow was on the ground. I was his squad leader. I was given a driver and a jeep at night told to go and try to find him. I had directed the to turn down a dirt road, and I saw it we went a ROK compound. I heard a rifle bolt slam forward and when I looked in the direction that the came from I was looking at the business. My rectum suck up the seat covers on the passenger seat. What ever happened PFC White he put on himself.

  • Arnie Chapman
    4:44 pm on November 28th, 2011 19

    I am not a Conspiracy Theorists but………..

    I came to Korea for the 2nd time in 1982 and ended up in the 2nd Inf Division, 1/9th Infantry Alpha Company ..However, I was originally signed to Brigade HQ in Camp Howze(I believe it was the 3rd Brigade) but ended up being reassigned to Alpha Comapny 1/9th Infantry (Camp Liberty Bell) after an “Incident” in Yongi-Go involving too much alcohol and MP’s..(This incident assisted my decision in not re-enlisting….After losing a rank and leaving service in 1983 I ended up going to college and earning a Masters Degree. That night of drinking, in retrospect was the best decision I ever made, despite losing a stripe and and getting fined..No regrets…

    Anyway, I concur with most of what folks have said reg the strange story of PFC White..However, I think there could be some merit to the NK spy theory.

    First let me digress…When I got to Korea (2nd time) in the fall of 82, it was 3 weeks after White had crossed over. I ran into my squad Leader from Ft. Carson who had been assigned to a platoon in the same company as White….The rumor regarding a female NK spy, I realize sounds far fetched. However, I was told that this supposed NK Contact was not in the GI Ville of Bonglichon as many have suggested..Instead, it was in the “Not so GI” City of Moon-San, which I believe was 15 miles from Bonglichon/Camp Howze. Also, I understand that the woman he was seeing was not a gal of the Ville but was someone who was considered a College student and hung out at the Korean Cafe’s in Moonsan where he would find many eager students interested n learning conversational english…I also heard that White did not spend a great deal of time in the GI Ville (Except for the occasional “quickie”), but instead hung out in Korean establishments..

    This might seem like heresay, but the folks who told me this had no reason to lie and were not trying to promote a NK Spy conspiracy at the time. I believe White received assistance crossing the Boarder..

    I would love to hear any feedback..esp from Soldiers who served in DMZ

  • John in CA
    6:06 pm on November 28th, 2011 20

    I remember my mom mentioning about a Lieutenant Colonel of ROK army defecting across the DMZ. Think this was early 80′s I think? No one knows why for sure but the guess is personal reason, getting passed over for promotion, etc.

    And about the girl problem. I was told even though ROK army is as tough and unforgiving as it might be, they will give a soldier a pass for a few days if he is known to be having a girl problem. The idea behind it is that young kids can get into or cause accidents (shooting, suicide etc) when they are having severe personal problems and unable to do anything about. And girl issue simply tops the list for young ones I guess.

  • Cindy Chafin
    8:02 pm on March 25th, 2012 21

    It’s interesting hearing all these comments. Sometimes I wonder about the truth. My mother and Joe’s mother have been friends since grade school and I had known him and his family since I was born. Joe’s brother David is schizophrenic. I wonder if Joe was also mentally ill. I do want to believe CQ82. It doesn’t seem right that someone who was angry about not seeing his girlfriend would cross a line that would prevent him from ever seeing her again. It doesn’t make sense. I was there when the family received a phone call from the president. They were told nothing further would be done to avoid an international incident. It has been so hard on his family.

  • Arnie Chapman
    5:43 pm on March 27th, 2012 22

    Cindy: Not only did I serve where Joseph served but I also worked for 6 years in the mental health field…I know that the following thoughts will only make the PFC Joseph White’s Story seem more confusing, but here I go. I absolutely believe that mental illness (Or even emerging mental illness) can impair someone’s judgement and lead to outrageous decisions. What would qualify as a “bummer” and an emotional “bump in the road” for a Soldier without mental illness can be emotionally devastating for a soldier with mental illness and/or emerging mental illness ..if this is the case, White should not be judged by the same set of standards of reason and logic for a person without Mental illness but who is working in a similarly stressful environment . I share this thought as a person who has studied Mental Illness and who also has worked directly with folks who have Mental Illness and have seen first hand the devastation of Schizophrenia, Depression and other Mental Illnesses and the huge impact it has on a person’s thinking processes and their life in general. . In final, research has shown that the likelihood that Joe White would have Mental Illness because his brother has it, is dramatically increased. Other information I have heard also tells me that Joseph may have been dealing with emerging mental illness. . Also, serving on the DMZ (With all of it’s hardship) would also create stressors to bring out emerging mental Illness (If the individual has the genetic potential which Joseph could have) …We will never know for a fact, the truth behind this heartbreaking story. However, I believe that Mental Illness should be considered a real possibility.

  • MSgt (Ret.) A
    7:43 am on September 28th, 2012 23

    I found this post, comments, and other articles on the Internet regarding this case to be highly interesting.

    What I think remains, however, is a lack of closure, and possibly there will never be one, as:
    a) we simply do not know the true facts of this soldier’s death and,
    b) we only have theories regarding his motivation for defecting to North Korea.

    I remember reading about this in the NY Times in Sept 1982. I went active-duty nine months later, and found myself in South Korea in the summer of 1985. By that time this case had apparently been abandoned in most people’s thoughts, and while I do remember it being discussed briefly, a lot of questions remain unanswered.

    There is another link in which Joseph White’s squad leader has come forward and given a brief testimony regarding White’s character; that contribution includes valuable details of patrols in which the squad leader and Private White participated. This remains, of course, to be
    verified, but I have no doubt in the squad leader’s testimony (it seems a very insightful, if unofficial, read). I, for one, would like to learn more. For example, if White was considered a risk to his unit (instances in which White allegedly banged his rifle on a tree during a patrol, allowing a North Korean soldier to escape into the night; on another occasion he was observed giving hand signals across the DMZ; on another White’s patrol partner was relieved and White’s weapon seized by his NCO). Why was White not relieved of duty? Why was he not simply evaluated to determine his ability to continue on duty?

    I’m also a little interested in the U.S. government’s position on this. Has it just been completely abandoned? There have certainly been U.S. repatriation missions in the years since, to recover and return the remains of our service members who were KIA/MIA during the Korean War.

    In addition, I’m also wondering if White’s Korean “girlfriend” was ever identified and questioned. Having been stationed in Korea on and off over the past 30 years, I know that if you have a Korean girlfriend, you’re also likely to have other Korean friends; friends of the girlfriend, other friends you pick up along the way, your buddy’s girlfriend, etc, who mostly tend to hang out together. Surely the girlfriend and/or other Koreans who knew White heard about what happened. Did none of them ever come forward with information?

    At the time of White’s defection, North Korea already held in captivity a total of four former US servicemen (Charles Robert Jenkins, James Joseph Dresnok, Larry Allen Abshier, and Jerry Parrish). All of these men had defected in the early 1960s and would have been in or approaching their 40s at the time that White crossed over. All four had been sustained by the North Korean government for roughly 20 years; all had been at least semi-integrated into the North Korean culture, language, and way of life, if not fully assimilated. Only Jenkins, who has since been repatriated to Japan, and Dresnok, who remains in North Korea, are still alive. Yet, neither of these two men have offered knowledge of White’s circumstances, his whereabouts in North Korea, or his fate. None of them have ever alluded to the event whereby White defected (Mr. Jenkins claims he saw “something” about it on state television). Why is that? The four men who crossed in the 1960s were kept together; not in the same quarters, but in the same general location in the capital of Pyongyang. They were found wives, given a means of subsistence, and were used by the state for propaganda purposes; films, anti-US speech, teaching English, things of that nature. None of the four disappeared (nor were they killed) despite resisting as a group (they approached the Soviet Embassy in Pyongyang and requested asylum but were denied and returned into the hands of the North Korean government). We should try to understand what made Joseph White’s situation different.

    If White’s death were truly accidental, then I believe he would have at least been given a decent burial somewhere, if the decision had indeed been made by North Korea’s government not to return his body to U.S. authorities. Confronted with the possibility of accidental drowning, I also find it hard to believe that the body was never recovered. Then I must surmise that his death was not accidental, but rather deliberate, with the story of “accidental” presented as cover. Does no one but myself find it difficult, even for a Stalinist state such as North Korea, to not provide a decent explanation for White’s family, but would instead permit a humble (and rather hollow) letter to be written and delivered by one of his North Korean “friends”?

    And what about these last shreds of evidence regarding the final days of White’s life? There were two reported letters after White’s disappearance, one which came from White to his mother, requesting a dictionary and other things; and then the final letter from the North Korean person which advised the family of his death. Where are these letters and what do they tell us?

    There are a few articles on the Internet which describe this incident, but beyond that there is very little information, and the articles themselves tend to repeat the same story.

    Admittedly there are some who have a negative view of White, and I do not deny, condone, nor condemn any of what they’ve written. At the same time, neither do I deny, condemn, or condone the beliefs or actions of White. In a true democracy you do not necessarily have to agree with another’s beliefs, but you do have to tolerate their right to an opinion. Is there a possibility that White was humiliated, ostracized, or otherwise treated as an outcast? It has already been stated that he failed a PT test, and that he did not have very good athletic ability. Could peer pressure, combined with his mediocre performance as a soldier, plus the denied request to see his “girlfriend”, and the reported issues he had with his unit leadership, have contributed to White’s state of mind in the days prior to, and the actual night, that he went over? I have to say that someone who shoots the lock off a gate on the DMZ in order to desert to the other side is certainly not acting rationally.

    White’s performance, beliefs, respect or lack of respect by his peers probably doesn’t really matter anymore.

    What should matter, in the final analysis, is that a nation lost a soldier, a soldier lost his life, and a mother lost a son. There is really very little compensation in any of what I’ve read so far to close this case out.

  • MSgt (Ret.) A
    10:46 pm on November 27th, 2012 24

    I’m at Osan AB, which is where we all land when we arrive in country; in fact, I can look out the window of this room and almost see the Osan passenger terminal from here. Certainly, PFC White, arriving here in 1982, would have stepped off the plane here on his way to his Army assignment at Camp Howze.

    Trying to peel back 30 years feels almost impossible today. I’ve thought over some of the comments on, in particular this one from Arnie Chapman:

    “When I got to Korea (2nd time) in the fall of 82, it was 3 weeks after White had crossed over. I ran into my squad Leader from Ft. Carson who had been assigned to a platoon in the same company as White…the rumor regarding a female…was not in the GI Ville of Bong-il-cheon as many have suggested. Instead, it was in the…city of Moon-San, which I believe was 15 miles from Camp Howze. Also, I understand that the woman he was seeing was not a gal of the ‘ville’ but someone who was considered a college student and hung out at the Korean cafes in Moon-san”.

    What I am beginning to think is that Joseph White started to hang around with some South Korean intellectuals, university students, etc. They somehow convinced him to believe that the U.S. presence in Korea was wrong. Maybe they harbored anti-American sentiments, who knows. Possibly they told him that Korea was not really a free democracy. Evidently, they turned his thinking around.

    When PFC White made his “speech” in North Korea, reading through the transcripts during a question-and-answer session with North Korean press, he mentions the 1980 South Korean “Kwang-ju incident” more than three times. He also criticizes the South Korean administrations of President(s) Park Chung-hee and Chun Do-Hwan. I find it amazing that a 20-year-old kid with approximately six months in country would be so wrapped up in things like this without some assistance or coaching.

    The thinking that there are ‘spies’ or ‘a NK spy’ involved is, for me, a bit far-fetched. The influence of South Korean student radicals is probably a better theory, but even this cannot be proven.

    So what I suspect is that these people turned his thinking around, convinced him to desert from the U.S. Army, and that pushed him over the edge.

    Did he find what he was looking for in North Korea? I seriously doubt it. More likely, within six months or a year, he realized what a mistake he’d made and was yearning to be home again.

    Unfortunately, in North Korea, you’re not allowed to change your mind later.

    He was 20 years old, disillusioned, far away from home and, well, we can’t totally know 100% for sure what he was thinking when he crossed over.

    I never heard back from anyone I tried to contact that served with him. Either it’s been forgotten or no one wishes to re-visit it, or they wish to maintain their privacy. So be it.

  • M48M60Mech
    8:22 am on January 2nd, 2013 25

    30 years ago was a long time ago and so many articles of “War” were almost broken at the time of his going AWOL, and it was AWOL, that remembering that fact is not difficult. The N.K’s were pissed because of a new attack chopper and a new fighter jet were being deployed to the tense northern region. His defection was followed by a bombardment of leaflets being dropped into our camp (Casey), with a picture of his smiling face with 1 or 2 sluts beside him. His unit must of been the biggest on the ROK because an entire Division apparently knew him personally. We were not under threat of Courts Martial to keep the photo, but some of the guys did so some one should still have one. As for his drowning, what happend to his remains?

  • chefantwon
    5:43 pm on January 2nd, 2013 26

    One would tend to think that White knew what he was doing, as I can’t think of anyone in their right mind that would cross the “z” on foot and wade through a minefield to get to the North. What happened while he was there should be the issue as he ended up dead only a few years later.

    White had to have gotten dis-illusioned from being in the North and wanted to go home. His DPRK minders likely reminded him that coming to the North was only a one way trip and that the only way he could get home was via a coffin (if at all).

    A defector is only as good as his or her commitment to the cause. If White really believed that the DPRK was the best thing since sliced bread, the Kim’s would have continually kept using him as a tool instead of White vanishing off of the face of the Earth. Someone up North knows the truth, but no one will ever really know until the land of the Kim’s is no more.

  • Arnie Chapman
    6:10 pm on January 11th, 2013 27

    As far as post defection (Time spent in NK) It is very interesting, as indicated in a previous post, that the four defectors from the 1960′s were “utilized” by the NK Government but PFC White was not (other than his appearance on Propaganda Leaflet(s) shortly after his defection). It makes me wonder if he was not used because NK did not find him to be a “credible” defector or maybe because they had ended their plans to continue using the American Defectors as they once had. However, some of the films/other propaganda that the American Defectors had appeared in, I believe, were made in the early 1980′s which would cast doubt on the theory that the NK Propaganda Ministry had stopped using the Americans as Propaganda tools…After thinking about it a bit, my guess is that the “not so charming” PFC White probably discouraged the NK Propaganda Machine from using him.

  • Michael Staggs
    2:52 pm on February 3rd, 2013 28

    I was an Intel. Analysis with the 2 ID shortly after Whites defection. I had later tours with 8th Army J2 and as 1SGT of an MI Co.

    White often came up in discussions and, if I remember correctly, there were very few real answers as to why he defected.

    I would agree with several of the guys on this site: mental illness would explain a lot; being ostracized in his unit would have a great effect on him; as to the “spy” theory – I tend to disregard this, there is no doubt the bar girls passed info (knowingly or unknowingly) to NK agents, but I don’t think White would be considered important enough to warrant high level attention; if he was associating with Korean College students this could easily have resulted, especially coupled with his possible mental illness and lack of acceptance in his unit, in effecting his thinking.

    About the US response to his defection – honestly a PFC grunt’s defection will not warrant a great deal of effort to get him back, certainly not an international, war level effort. Harsh as this sounds we were probably better off without him.

  • Wayne
    10:44 am on March 15th, 2013 29

    I was at “Camp Kitty hawk” and recorded the defector that addressed the North Korean government while in Combat Fatigue dress – and have a leaflet that was dropped. Following is the EXACT language on the leaflet:

    “Dear Old Fellow Friends – I have been leading a contented life under the warm care of the DPRK. I have become very fond of a life in the capital seeing the sights and visiting the institutions of culture. My seeking a political assylum is a very right conduct. Joseph White, former american GI, PFC, in the 3rd squad, 3rd pltn, A Co, Ist Bn, 31st Inf Reg of the 2nd Inf Div stationed in S Korea.”

  • Terry Edge
    10:22 pm on May 18th, 2013 30

    I was in the same BN (1st 31st Mechanized Infantry) with PFC White and on the DMZ when he defected. I also happened to share breakfast with his Squad Leader the morning after he defected. I had been on night duty with the BN Heavy Mortar Platoon and listened on the radio to some of the radio transmissions.
    His Squad Leader told me that as far as he could figure it PFC White was upset about losing his pass to go see his Korean girlfriend (Yobosaso) and had decided to defect. They chase him across the southern section of the DMZ and almost caught him at the actual DMZ fence. He dumped his duffle bag and was able to climb the fence without it and get away. The duffle bag contained map of the Army site on the south side of the DMZ and night vision goggles plus some other classified articles.
    We listen to the loud speaker boastings and watched the North Korea TV shows of PFC White at banquets with the North Korean leaders the rest of our time on the DMZ.
    I was there when it happened!

  • MSgt (Ret.) A
    4:54 am on May 19th, 2013 31

    Below is an excerpt from a Time-Life article that summarizes the event based on eye-witness accounts; I did not read anywhere that White dragged his duffle bag and was chased and almost caught at the DMZ fence, but that would add some detail that is possibly missing.

    We are talking serious fog-of-war here in that over 30 years have passed since this unfortunate event occurred.

    If the gentleman in possession of the nK leaflet would be kind enough to scan a copy of it to my e-mail account, that would be appreciated:
    joseph underscore wa at

    “PFC White was on duty at Guard Post Ouellette, but his mind was elsewhere. He complained to his squad leader, Sgt. Howard Todd, about being denied the opportunity to visit his South Korean girlfriend, who happened to be in the hospital. Sgt. Todd advised White to keep cool, that he might receive a pass in a week. Sgt. Todd left his position soon afterwards and so did White, ostensibly to get a blanket.

    A few minutes later, PFC David Chapman, White’s roommate, saw someone signaling with a red-lensed flashlight near a locked gate. Chapman screamed out a challenge and White identified himself. “White, what are you doing down there?” Chapman yelled. A shot rang out and Chapman reacted by diving into nearby sandbags. “What the hell are you doing down there?” Chapman repeated. White replied that his M-16 accidentally discharged. Chapman stood up and ran towards the gate—first hearing and then seeing White running down the hill towards North Korea”.

    “I am coming. Help me. Help me, North Korea,” White shouted in elementary Korean. A guard hit the post’s alert button, and the stunned squad looked on as White carefully picked his way across the heavily mined DMZ. The unit’s chaplain, a Catholic priest, shouted at White, pleading with him to return. Shortly after dawn the chaplain watched helplessly as six or eight North Korean soldiers grabbed White and manhandled him into a bunker and out of sight.

  • MSgt (Ret.) A
    5:38 am on May 19th, 2013 32

    For those interested, a link to a FBIS document that records White’s statement and interview by the nK press, dated 24 Sept 1982:

  • guitard
    3:39 pm on May 19th, 2013 33

    Terry Edge wrote:

    We . . . watched the North Korea TV shows of PFC White at banquets with the North Korean leaders the rest of our time on the DMZ. I was there when it happened!

    You were you able to watch North Korean TV? North Korea uses the PAL video standard and South Korea (and the US) use the NTSC video standard. Back then, TVs of one standard couldn’t properly display a broadcast from the other standard. With specialized equipment, a TV studio could convert a PAL signal and re-broadcast it in NTSC, but South Korean TV never showed North Korean TV shows back then.

    So I’m curious as to how you were able to watch North Korean TV.

  • Wayne
    8:51 pm on May 19th, 2013 34

    the JSA where I was stationed at that time (camp kittyhawk) was equipped with equipment not available at the 2nd division. As a result of the neutral nations requirements – we had equipment that easily accomplished those missions. I was the one of the officers that night which watched Private white in full combat gear, walk into the NRK chamber – applauded by the NRK military and such – and deliver a scathing and degrading opinion of the USA.

  • MSgt (Ret.) A
    1:36 am on May 20th, 2013 35

    The below is from former Army SGT Charles Jenkins, who defected in 1965 and was repatriated to Japan in 2006, from his autobiography (Chapter 6, pp. 115-116):

    “People always ask me about Joseph White, the U.S. Army private who walked across the DMZ in 1982, the first GI to do so since I did. But I never met White…except for watching the press conference he did in Pyongyang shortly after he crossed on TV. He was wearing his uniform and gave some predictable words of praise to Kim Il-sung and the paradise he had created in North Korea.

    I never heard from him or saw him again. On April 15, 1984,
    though, we were having a holiday party, as always, for the cadres
    (April 15 is Kim Il-sung’s birthday), and I said to one of them,
    ‘Why don’t you bring White here?’ But this cadre—a guy we called the One-Hour Cadre since he never overstayed his welcome, unlike all the others—just said, ‘Uh-uh. We can’t use White’. He said that White had had some sort of accident or stroke and was now paralyzed. And that was the end of that…”.

    My comments: if Pfc White had indeed suffered some type of seizure and was even semi-paralyzed by April 1984, then it is rather implausible that he would have swam out into the middle of a river over a year later. His death, then, could not have been a swimming accident as reported by letter to his parents.

  • Tod Nehman
    8:43 am on October 23rd, 2013 36

    Little known and not mentioned fact….He attended Kemper Military College in Boonville MO-his home state-before enlisting. He was in the officer commissioning program but flipped out! He had always been a nut and (probably wrongly) we all gave him grief for not fitting in. He also got into CONSTANT trouble at summer training at Ft Riley in 1981. I was asked to speak on his behalf since I went to the same school but I said I could not offer anything positive about him. He later went awol from the school that fall. He was thrown out of the program and enlisted. I remember getting called the day after he defected and it did not surprise me. I also predicted the NK’s would quickly learn he was nut and not much value and get rid of him. I came to this sight today to just see what happened to him. I see the NK’s did just what I thought they would do once his limited media value was used up; Kill him. So there is some info from some one who went to military school with him in 1980-1981.

  • MSgt A
    3:38 am on October 24th, 2013 37

    That’s an interesting input, Tod. Could you expand a little on what made you feel he was “always a nut”. Or share more about what constant trouble he was in at Ft Riley? The excerpt below indicates he left of his own accord and wasn’t dismissed (I’m not challenging your version, just saying there is another side of it that has been presented):

    From a Time magazine article circa Nov 1982:

    ‘Turned down by West Point, Joe enrolled in Missouri’s Kemper Military School and College, where he was regarded as a loner. A fair student but a poor athlete, he dropped out and enlisted in the Army after deciding Kemper was full of “losers”.’

  • Eugene Francis
    8:53 pm on February 19th, 2014 38

    Hey, I was there in 1982. 2nd tank Camp Casey, south korea. I think the shithead defected. I heard his Top wouldn’t let him go to the ville to see his yobo.He got his panties in a wad and jumped. I think the fish eaters up north got tired of his shit , slit his throat and dumped his coward ass in the river. They already had the other low ranking defectors ( Dresden, Jenkins and the other two. What did they need with another low level grunt. Plus he gave them a code book, mine field maps, m16 and other stuff. What else was he gonna give them. He just created more bullshit for the rest of us.

  • Donald J. Cheek
    8:16 pm on May 8th, 2014 39

    I was in Korea in 78-80, and spent a fair amount of time in Ouelette. In 1988, while attending MI OBC, the LTC (Retired) teaching us Counter Intel had been one of the investigating officers. He said the same thing: White was a screwup who was pissed at his 1st Sergeant for pulling his pass, and that most of his squad couldn’t stand the little goof (not his words). He actually had a copy of the leaflet Wayne referred to above (15 March 2013), and we commented that “Dear Old Fellow Friends” wasn’t something a native English speaker would use. (BTW, it sounds just fine in DPRK Korean – I was a 98G2LKP.) According to the LTC, White defected on his own, got disoriented, dropped the CEOI and GSR manuals he was carrying, and deliberately ran into NK while yelling for help. He also contended that after the NK’s “used him up” (his words), they tossed him into a coal mine and he “disappeared” from poor nutrition and overwork. This was in 1988, remember, when he said this.

  • Retired GI
    1:41 pm on June 1st, 2014 40

    Repeat. Sadly this one made it back. I hope they turn him loose and members of his unit in 2009 can locate him. I know they would have some nice barracks justice in mind for him.

  • Retired GI
    1:44 pm on June 1st, 2014 41

    (AP) WASHINGTON – Emails an American soldier reportedly sent to his parents before he was captured by the Taliban three years ago suggest he was disillusioned and considering deserting.

    Bowe Bergdahl told his parents he was “ashamed to even be American” and was disgusted with the U.S. mission in Afghanistan and with the Army, according to emails quoted in Rolling Stone magazine.

    Bergdahl, a 26-year-old Army sergeant from Hailey, Idaho, was taken prisoner on June 30, 2009, in Afghanistan.

  • Retired GI
    1:46 pm on June 1st, 2014 42

    But a soldier on Twitter is claiming that the official story is untrue, and has posted his version of the events that led to Bowe’s capture as I originally posted on my blog.

    Towards the end of his story, he says he fears reprisal from the Obama administration, and asks for legal help. It must be noted also that he has a avatar that bears a picture of Bowe with the word “traitor” posted over it.

    After stating that “F[***] what you I heard. I was there.,”

  • Smokes
    1:46 pm on June 1st, 2014 43

    Ugh I f**king hate twitter, what a miserable excuse for an information platform. Retired can you just give us the jist of it because I’m not digging through the million half-coherent tweets on that link. Reading on Twitter’s like seriously listening to a drunk at 2:45am. :???:

  • Smokes
    1:48 pm on June 1st, 2014 44

    Ok, the CBS link is much better, thanks. ;-)


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