THE DEFECTION OF AMERICAN SOLDIER
PRIVATE FIRST CLASS JOSEPH WHITE TO NORTH KOREA

by MAJ Ed Rouse (USA Ret.)

This is the story of Private First Class Joseph T. White, an American soldier who decided to defect to North Korea on August 28, 1982.

In 1982, I was assigned as the S2 (Staff Officer in charge of Intelligence and Security) for the 2nd Brigade, 2nd Infantry Division at Camp, Hovey South Korea. Our two Infantry Battalions were part of the rotation of units from the Division's Brigades that provided security at the Demilitarized Zone (DMZ). 

On August 28, of that year I received a call notifying me that an American soldier from the 3rd Brigade, 2nd Infantry Division had abandoned his post and intentionally defected to North Korea. My first thought was:

Why in hell would an American soldier defect to North Korea?

My second thought was:

Thank goodness that it wasn't time for one of the 2nd Briagade battalions to serve rotation at the DMZ. 

His defection was a propaganda dream for Noth Korea and a nightmare for both the United States and South Korea.  It is quite common to hear about North Koreans defecting to South Korea. But to have someone, let alone an American soldier, defect to North Korea, this is big news and an unbelievable propaganda oppurtunity. In other words: "Stop the Presses!" We have a page one headline, news conferences to schedule, radio and loudspeaker broadcast to write and leaflets to be disseminated.  We are going to milk this defection for all its worth.

Background

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Joseph T. White

Joseph White was from St. Louis, Missouri, and lived in a middle-class neighborhood of two-story, well-kept brick bungalows with his parents and four siblings.

An examination of his early childhood portrays him as idealistic and extremely patriotic. At the age of 13 he wrote to his senator warning him of the communist threat that he felt America was facing. He ensured the family's American flag was flown on all national holidays and was "folded just right" at sunset. He was also a volunteer with the Reagan's presidential campaign.

But Joseph was different from the beginning. None of his four brothers and sisters showed an interest in politics, but Joseph volunteered for the Reagan campaign even before he could vote. He was shy, with no enemies but few close friends. Academically he was an average student. But his personality was complicated and filled with contradictions and the inability to fit in or be satisfied with himself. He was described as a nice enough boy, who was never in trouble at school or in public. He read military history voraciously, spending hours alone with his books. He attended parochial schools and was a devout Catholic. He was also a Boy Scout and volunteered at a muscular dystrophy camp.

In 1979 he attended a YMCA model legislature and introduced a ‘bill’ requiring 11 months of reserve military service for all 18-year-old males. (In his model state, the governor would have the power to hire out the state militia to private businesses and individuals.) The following year he introduced another bill in the model legislature that called for Missouri to withdraw from the union because of a long list of grievances dating back to the Civil War, and for a list of “present abuses and injustices” of the federal government, including the charge that the “U.S. government is no longer supreme in the world, leaving it vulnerable to enemies.”

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Kemper Military School and College, Booneville, Missouri

White was fascinated with the military and after high school applied to West Point, but was turned down. He then decided that he would go directly into the Army. His parents persuaded him to attend  Kemper Military School and College in Booneville, Missouri. He maintained a B+ average. However, due to his lack of athletic ability and his shyness, he kept pretty much to himself and was regarded as a loner. Unable to fit in, he dropped out of school - convincing himself that it was full of "losers".  He told his parents he would rather be a “dog soldier” than an officer and dropped out of Kemper to enlist in the Army and go on active duty

Tod Nehman who went to Kemper with White said:

White attended Kemper Military College in Booneville MO in 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.

The Kemper Commandant remembered White as an introvert. He recalled:

He wasn’t outgoing but if you talked to him you could have an intelligent conversation.

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Demilitarized Zone (DMZ) Korea
Blue line is the actual military demarcation line (border between North and South Korea).
Orange marks the 2.5 mile-wide DMZ, the area north and south of the demarcation which is heavily fortified and mined.

After completing basic and advanced individual training, Twenty-year-old PFC White was sent to Korea in March 1982 and was assigned the 1st Battalion of the 31st Infantry Regiment to Camp Howze, just south of the DMZ. White explored the local villages and began to learn Hongul, the Korean language. He told his parents:

It is Much more precise than English.

His incentive was not strictly academic. White had become fascinated by Korean women. He liked the food and sent packages of it back to St. Louis. He particularly liked the local women.

The women over here are beautifully alluring, It’s true the [Korean] women are generally small breasted but after Korea I’ll probably never like big breasted women. The biggest problem is communication since frequently their English leaves something to be desired.

PFC White scorned fellow soldiers whose curiosity about Korea extended no further than watching M*A*S*H.  He began to read up on both Koreas, marking references to Kim Il-Sung.

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Entrance to Guard Post Ouellette

In early July, his unit rotated from Camp Howze to Warrior Base at the DMZ. White described Warrior Base as "a god-forsaken wretched place" where they lived in tents, shaved in their helmets, were tormented by mosquitoes, and the sweltering heat was made even more unbearable by the constant rain. In a letter to his parents he wrote:

There is absolutely no entertainment here. Sometimes we have movies shown outside on a sheet with gravel for chairs. Periodically, a bookmobile comes over the lunch hour. Practically our sole entertainment is a color TV that a soldier brought with him, which we watch in tent. There is also a Korean snack bar which sells food and is some place to go and sit. There is also chapel on Saturday evenings.

In a tape to his parents recorded in May 1982 White said:

Tension here is very real. Four North Koreans tried to defect, so the enemy fired at us for hours. Before anybody knew it, that could have been the start of another Korean war.

White wrote home that a soldier was allowed to have only two beers a night and no more:

Being caught drunk is a severely punishable offense

There were very few passes given out to the soldiers, causing White to write:

No passes means no women, no drink and monotony.

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A patrol with camouflage paint faces lines up at Warrior Base, the tent city
on the DMZ where White was quartered until three weeks prior to his defection.

The monotony was broken up when they went out on patrol - especially night patrol. White wrote in the letter home that:

It is eerie to lie in an ambush position with 196 rounds of live ammo in your magazine pouches at 3 a.m. in the morning and listen to the voice of a communist woman which is quivering with hate. Hate for the U.S. and Republic of Korea. Interspersed (with the speeches) by men and women (is the) broadcasting of martial music.

Firefights were not uncommon and the danger was real. He described a patrol being followed by three armed personnel who, when confronted he:

...ran helter-skelter over the middle demarcation line into North Korea.

A couple of weeks later, in a letter to a friend, White claimed he "almost got killed twice” once when his patrol inadvertently strayed into one of its own ambush sites and the second when it became "misoriented" in the dark. He wrote that his squad encountered a North Korean soldier signaling with a flashlight, apparently attempting to infiltrate South Korean lines. The enemy soldier fled without firing but White was frightened. He wrote:

My squad encountered a North Korean soldier signaling with a flashlight, apparently attempting to infiltrate South Korean lines. The enemy soldier fled without firing but if he had chosen to fight, I would have been shot before I could have fired. By the time we reacted he had vanished.

But for the most part White was bored, complaining about the lack of entertainment and being limited to two beers a day while on leave. He had a Korean girlfriend - a rare relationship for him. He spoke of defections from the North to the South but gave little or no indication that he might defect himself.

On 3o November, 2019, Robert Neff, a correspondent for the Korea Times published an article PFC Joseph White's walk in the dark: The defection of an American soldier to North Korea. He noted:

White looked down on many of his fellow soldiers, whom he felt had no knowledge of Korea, save for what they learned from "MASH" or learned in the small villages surrounding the military camps that catered to the needs of the soldiers.

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Sgt. James Kirk does duty at Guard Post Ouellette.
The gate that White blasted open is visible at rear

Noise along the DMZ is common. At Guard Post Ouellette, one of the most forward American positions at that time in South Korea, loudspeakers blare from both the North and South sides. The North routinely broadcasts propaganda messages while the American sector in the South habitually plays rock music which serves to not only drown out the North Korean propaganda but also to entertain the soldiers.

On August 28, 1982, at about 2 a.m., the sound of a single gunshot at the Panmunjom region of Korea's Demilitarized Zone began a night of unexpected surprise - the defection of an American soldier to North Korea.

PFC Joseph T. White, was alone at his post. The night was characterized by the usual mixture of boredom and tension along the boundaries of the Demilitarized Zone (DMZ).  White complained to his squad leader, Sergeant Howard Todd, about being denied the opportunity to visit his South Korean girlfriend, who allegedly was in the hospital. Sergeant Todd advised White to keep cool, that he might receive a pass in a week. Soon after, Sergeant Todd left his position as did White, ostensibly to get a blanket. The next sound that was heard was a gunshot as White shot off the lock of one of the gates leading into the 2.5-mile-wide DMZ, and started on his way into one of most heavily fortified and mined zones in the world.

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North Koreans peer across the DMZ from a typical guard post.

I am coming. Help me. Help me, North Korea.

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.

Private First Class David Chapman, White’s roommate said:

I saw someone signaling with a red-lensed flashlight near a locked gate. I screamed out a challenge and White identified himself. “White, what are you doing down there?” I yelled. A shot rang out and I reacted by diving into nearby sandbags. “What the hell are you doing down there?” I yelled. White replied that his M16 accidentally discharged. I stood up and ran towards the gate - first hearing and then seeing White running down the hill towards North Korea.

Terry Edge, another member of White's unit recalls:

I was in the same Battalion (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 Battalion 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.

 

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M16A1 with M203 grenade launcher

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AN/PVS-5 Night Vision Goggles

White carried with him an M-16 with an attached M203 40mm grenade launcher, ammo, and a duffle bag full of documents he stole from the site to include the layout of mines which were buried on the South Korean side of the DMZ, night-vision goggles, operating instructions for radio equipment and some unclassified information on radar and sensor systems (i.e. seismic intrusion devices). While crossing the DMZ he abandoned everything except his weapon and ammo.

White's trip through the DMZ was slow and deliberate as he evaded the mine fields and other obstacles. Pleas were made by his fellow soldiers to come back. Even the unit's Chaplain, a Roman Catholics priest, shouted at White to turn back but these urgings fell on deaf ears. 

The few American soldiers who witnessed his defection could not believe what they were seeing.  There are reports that at least one soldier asked permission to open fire on White before the North Koreans reached him, that request was denied.

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North Korean soldiers look at South Korea across the Korean Demilitarized Zone (DMZ),

The American soldiers watched as a squad of North Korean guards grabbed White and led him into a bunker. The United Nations Command later described the incident as 10 North Koreans "apprehending an unnamed individual."

Despite the fact that later that day, the North Korean government exuberantly announced that PFC White was in their "warm protection" after having crossed the border on his own volition seeking political asylum, the American government and White's family had their doubts.

Why did White Defect?

There were several theories explaining why White chose to defect to North Korea. Listed below are four explanations given by members of PFC White's own unit.

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

Top (Unit First Sergeant) was on his ass 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, kind of strange but otherwise seemed alright.

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.

White simply went crazy.

Robert Neff  wrote that:

Giving credence to these theories is White's infatuation with Korean women, whom he described as the "perfect man's mate," who "know how to treat their man." He boasted to his mother he had several Korean girlfriends who were "more beautiful than any girlfriend" he had had in the States. These Korean girls were not only attractive, but they were hard working and lived simply.

Soldiers in forward units spent most of their time on base, but when they were granted passes to go to the nearby "ville," many over-indulged in alcohol and spent their time and money on women working in the bars.

He, on the other hand, read as much as he could on Korea and began learning the language. He became sympathetic to the Korean people and perhaps a little arrogant in thinking that only he could see past the American stereotypes and realize that the Koreans were happy in their small, crowded hovels, leading their simple lives. And in a way he yearned for this life. His mother would later wonder how he could give up his life in the United States "for one bowl of rice a day for the rest of his life" in North Korea.

PFC White was 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. It is possible that a woman was the reason he defected.

The Army's official explanation for White’s defection was his resentment at not being allowed to visit his girlfriend, a questionable explanation as White should have known that he would never see her again if he crossed the DMZ.

Robert Neff noted that:

Women were not the only things on White's mind. He became fixated on defections. In a tape to his parents, he mentioned defection six times, mostly about the large number of North Koreans who defected to the South.

In South Korean newspapers you read all the time of North Koreans who defect south

But then he noted ominously in a disembodied voice:

But it's not all one-way traffic.

It is believed that White was referring to the four American soldiers who defected to the Democratic People's Republic of Korea in the 1960's by also crossing the Demilitarized Zone (DMZ).

Army Sergeant Charles Robert Jenkins, Private James Joseph Dresnok, Private Larry Allen Abshier, and Specialist Jerry Wayne Parrish all left their positions in South Korea and crossed the DMZ into North Korea.  The four American later became North Korea propaganda staples appearing in movies, press conferences and on the radio. What White was not aware of was that these four men were forced to share to share one room while constantly being monitored by the North Korean government.

A better explanation might be found in White’s personality. All of his life he had sought the comfort of authority and indicated his desire to subjugate his will to a higher purpose. The North Korea he entered was not unlike the state militia and right wing state he had advocated for Missouri. His devotion to the Catholic Church was amplified to the nth degree in the state worship of the so-called Great Leader Kim Il-sung. Like many extremists, White had little trouble switching the form his belief took, as long as it fulfilled his need to be controlled by a higher purpose.  White found a way station in the military before giving himself over to an even more authoritarian culture.

White's Parent's Speak out

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The news that PFC White defected shook his middle class neighborhood in south St. Louis, an expanse of small, immaculate houses­the homes of brewery and auto factory workers. White’s parents, Norval and Kathleen, maintained that their son had been captured. They clung to every piece of evidence supporting their belief, including reports that Joseph’s arms were pinned behind his back as he was led into the bunker, and that their “nearly blind” son was not wearing his glasses when he picked his way across the DMZ.

His mother did not stop crying for two days before taking up the fight for Joseph. “I’d rather cook, clean the house and play with the grandchildren than be the center of attention, but I have to fight to save my son,” she pronounced. The Whites did their best to cope with the glare of the media spotlight, inviting journalists into their home and leaving aluminum lawn chairs in the front yard for camera crews. They displayed photos of Joseph in uniform; hanging from a crucifix was a scroll with the soldier’s creed that their son had sent from Korea.

White's parents were devastated by the news and vehemently denied his defection. White's father Norval White described the news of his son's disappearance as a "terrible tragedy" he could not understand.

In a Washington Post February 14, 1983 article reporter Paul Hendrickson wrote:

The parents of a 21-year-old U.S. Army private who apparently defected to North Korea have received the first communication from their son since his mysterious disappearance Aug. 28 across the two-mile-wide demilitarized zone separating the two Koreas.

Norval White, father of PFC Joseph T. White, called The Washington Post late Saturday to describe the contents of a letter, dated Oct. 27 but not received at the Whites' St. Louis home until Friday.

Although the letter provided the first evidence that the soldier was residing in North Korea, apparently of his own volition, little is known of his current whereabouts.

"The letter contained only assurances that he is well and an expression of love and concern for his family and friends," said White, who works at a General Motors truck assembly plant in St. Louis.

He makes no comment or explanation of what happened on the DMZ. He says that he helped harvest some crops and that he teaches two university students English, and he wished he had a dictionary and an almanac."

The elder White said that even though the letter "is three or four months old, we're just grateful to God to have it. Until this, we didn't even know for sure Joey was alive.

The handwritten letter was datelined Pyongyang, capital of North Korea.

White quoted his son, the fourth of five children, as saying that:

"the people he had met were very moral, hard-working and have great respect for authority, teachers and senior citizens."

In November 1982, the grief-stricken father told reporter David Friend during a brief telephone interview:

It's like he was killed in action.

In a telephone interview on August 31, his sobbing mother Kathleen insisted she felt no shame because her son was a "prisoner" and would never have defected, She stated that:

Joey is nothing but gung-ho Army, a gung-ho patriot, and gung-ho Reagan. He would have had to change his whole personality in a week.

Kathleen could not believe that her son had defected.

He was a very patriotic, conservative young man. He didn’t drink, he didn’t smoke, he didn’t smoke pot. He often said young people were too soft. He was a conservative- a Reagan[ite]. The things Reagan was saying were exactly the words in his own mind

In desperation she wrote letters to President Ronald Reagan and former President Richard M. Nixon begging them for assistance in getting her son returned from the North Koreans.

In her letter to Reagan, she expounded on her son's loyalty to the president as well as to the United States. She proclaimed:

This is a boy the country needs.

She warned that if the North Koreans could:

Capture one, they can do it to a hundred, and soon they'll be on the West Coast.

She suggested to the president that it might be prudent for the U.S. forces in Korea to:

Collect some North Koreans and trade them for her son.

Despite White's parents' insistence their son had not defected, evidence - including the witness accounts - began to indicate otherwise. 

United Nations Reaction

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On August 30, United Nations Command's senior representative, Rear Admiral James G. Storm, requested a face-to-face meeting with White to verify the circumstances of his defection, but his request was denied by the North Korean representative, Han Ju-kyung, who insisted that it was a well-known fact that White had defected.

The United Nations Command continued to demand an audience with the American soldier to verify his status, and the North Koreans continued to refuse, thus provoking American officials to proclaim the North as "unreasonable and inhumane."

North Korean authorities refused a request by United Nations Command representatives to meet White and ask him about the reasons for his defection. North Korean authorities released a video of White, in which he denounced the United States' "corruptness, criminality, immorality, weakness, and hedonism," affirming he had defected to demonstrate how "unjustifiable [it was] for the U.S. to send troops to South Korea", before leading a chant in homage to North Korean leader Kim Il Sung.

Nobody instigated me to come over to North Korea. I sought political refuge not by passing emotion, but by a deep conviction. While working in the Demilitarized Zone I came to know that there is a way leading to a truly wonderful life. I cast my eye on North Korea.

In stilted, unnatural English, White attacked what he called the:

...corruptness, criminality, immorality, weakness and hedonism of America.

Investigation & Evidence

American authorities demanded to interview White but the North Koreans refused. The army searched White’s possessions and found an Instamatic camera with undeveloped pictures of American defenses, radar tech manuals, copies of low level codes, Korean language lesson books, military and civilian clothing, and a large collection of North Korean propaganda leaflets and newspaper articles about life in North Korea. This in itself was nothing more than circumstantial evidence as White, like many young soldiers, collected North Korean propaganda leaflets (despite the fact that it was illegal), which could be found in the mountains throughout Korea, and even in the streets of Seoul. White had even written to his parents with "boyish exuberance" of his intention to collect these:

...odd testimonials to the joys of life under the Communist regime.

The words struck hard in White’s middle class neighborhood in south St. Louis, an expanse of small, immaculate houses - the homes of brewery and auto factory workers. White’s parents, Norval and Kathleen, maintained that their son had been captured. They clung to every piece of evidence supporting their belief, including reports that Joseph’s arms were pinned behind his back as he was led into the bunker, and that their “nearly blind” son was not wearing his glasses when he picked his way across the DMZ.

Perhaps the most damning evidence was the North Korean video that was released shortly after his defection. Taped at the Pyongyang Cultural People's Palace, White criticized the American government and its policies while praising North Korea and Kim Il-sung.

He claimed he had not defected on a whim, but had done so with great thought and emotion to:

show the world the corruptness, criminality, immorality, weakness, and hedonism of the U.S.," and to demonstrate how "unjustifiable [it was] for the U.S. to send troops to South Korea.

Th investigation and evidence left no doubt that White defected. There were numerous witnesses that saw White run across the DMZ towards North Korea. David Chapman, White’s roommate, saw White signaling with a red-lensed flashlight near a locked gate. White admitted to him that he (White) fired the shot which was later determined to be the one that shot the lock off of the gate. There is no doubt that White took sensitive operation information and equipment in an attempt to aid the enemy.

The language allegedly used by him at press conferences, on leaflets and in radio/loudspeaker broadcasts however raised questions. Reviewing the full transcripts of the news conferences one can't help to notice how stiffly and uncomfortably White spoke. The vocabulary used seemed alien to his tongue, as if it were written by someone other than an American. The United Nations Command apparently felt the same way.

The language is stilted and totally unlike a Westerner's speaking style, particularly that of a U.S. Army soldier. It should be noted also that the press conference touched on every propaganda theme currently being voiced by North Korea.

White's father echoed the sentiment.

He never complained about the American policy in Korea. His letters were very upbeat and factual and described what was going on in Korea.

Acceptance of the Unthinkable

By mid-September it became clear to just about everyone - including his parents - that White had defected. His mother confessed to being "totally confused" and unable to sleep for three nights, asking herself over and over how this could have happened.

The kid I knew was a straight arrow, proud of being American and proud of being in the army." He was even planning for his future by saving up money in anticipation of his discharge from the military in the following March.

Their neighbors were also unwilling to believe White had defected entirely on his own free will.  A close friend of the family insisted.

Something must have happened to him. Something must have clicked. He wouldn't do anything like that unless they brainwashed him.

On 19 September the Army closed its investigation and concluded that White had defected of his own free will. His parents painfully accepted this conclusion.

Shortly after the military's finding, White's parents received "a warm, personal, supportive letter" from President Reagan - the facts were irrefutable. Mr. White told the press:

We asked for the truth and we got facts. We accept these facts. I know it's hard but the facts are there. I don't see how I can refute it,"  "We, his parents, relatives and friends do not know what ignited this totally uncharacteristic action. We are all deeply hurt.

Mrs. White, devastated at the thought of never seeing her son again, said:

I'll go to the grave with a thousand questions without any peace until I talk to my son, Joe. We pray that someday Joe will be with us. If my son had any faults, it was that Joe has such strong feelings for the oppressed people of the world.

Later, in another interview, she insisted:

It just doesn't make any sense. Why would Joey want to leave his ice cream, his chocolate syrup [and] his money?

UCMJ Charges Prepared for PFC Joseph White

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PFC White's DA Form 3835 - Notice of Unauthorized Absence
from the United States Army prepared for PFC Joseph White

Listed below are the Uniform Code of Military Justice (UCMJ) Charges that were prepared (but never used) for Private First Class Joseph White as a result of his defection. [Note: Although charges are prepared when a person goes AWOL the court martial proceedings are put on hold until the soldier is return from AWOL]:

Charge I: Violation of the Uniformed Code of Military Justice, Article 121 - Larceny.

Specification: In that Private First Class Joseph T. White, U.S. Army, Company A. 1st Battalion, 31st Infantry, 3rd Brigade, 2nd Infantry Division, Republic of Korea, did at Guard Post Ouellette, Republic of Korea, on or about 28 August 1982, steal a launcher, grenade, 40mm, M203. a rifle. 5,56 mm M16A1, and a night vision goggles, AN/PVS-5, of a total value of about $6551.00, the property of the United States, said offense occurring outside the territorial limits of the United States.

Charge II: Violation of the Uniformed Code of Military Justice, Article 108 - Destruction of Military Property.

Specification: In that Private First Class Joseph T. White, U.S. Army, Company A. 1st Battalion, 31st Infantry, 3rd Brigade, 2nd Infantry Division, Republic of Korea, did at Guard Post Ouellette, Republic of Korea, on or about 28 August 1982, without proper authority, willfully destroy, by shooting , the padlock on the gate to Guard Post Omelet, of some value, military property of the United States, said offense occurring outside the territorial limits of the United States.

Charge III: Violation of the Uniformed Code of Military Justice, Article 113 - Misbehavior of Sentinel.

Specification: In that Private First Class Joseph T. White, U.S. Army, Company A. 1st Battalion, 31st Infantry, 3rd Brigade, 2nd Infantry Division, Republic of Korea, on or about 0100 hours , 28 August 1982, at Guard Post Omelet, Republic of Korea, being posted as a sentinel at Bunker number 7 of Guard Post Omelet, did leave his post before he was regularly relieved,  said offense occurring outside the territorial limits of the United States.

Charge IV: Violation of the Uniformed Code of Military Justice, Article 85.

Specification: In that Private First Class Joseph T. White, U.S. Army, Company A. 1st Battalion, 31st Infantry, 3rd Brigade, 2nd Infantry Division, Republic of Korea, did, on or about 0100 hours , 28 August 1982, without authority and with intent to remain away from away therefrom permanently, absent himself from his unit, to wit: Company A. 1st Battalion, 31st Infantry, 3rd Brigade, 2nd Infantry Division, located at Guard Post Omelet, Republic of Korea, APO San Francisco 96251, and did remain so absent in desertion until _______ [left blank],  said offense occurring outside the territorial limits of the United States.

Charge V: Violation of the Uniformed Code of Military Justice, Article 104 - Aiding the Enemy.

Specification: In that Private First Class Joseph T. White, U.S. Army, Company A. 1st Battalion, 31st Infantry, 3rd Brigade, 2nd Infantry Division, Republic of Korea, did, at Guard Post Omelet, Republic of Korea, on or about 0100 hours, 28 August 1982, attempt to aid the enemy with sensitive operation information  and equipment, to wit: notes extracted from a Communications Electronics Operating Instructions (CEOI), technical information on the deployment and operation of RADAR and Platoon Early Warning Systems (PEWS), exposed film depicting details of Guard Post Omelet, and Night Vision Goggles, AN/PVS-5, by furnishing and delivering said equipment to the Armed Forces of the Democratic People's Republic of Korea, members of the enemy's armed forces, by carrying said sensitive operational information and equipment with him when he departed Guard Post Omelet enroute across the Military Demarcation Line to Democratic People's Republic of Korea, said offense occurring outside the territorial limits of the United States.

Charge VI: Violation of the Uniformed Code of Military Justice, Article 134 - General   Article

Specification 1. In that Private First Class Joseph T. White, U.S. Army, Company A. 1st Battalion, 31st Infantry, 3rd Brigade, 2nd Infantry Division, Republic of Korea, did, at Pyongyang, Democratic People's Republic of Korea, on or about 4 September 1982, with design to impair the loyalty, morale, and discipline of members of the Armed Forces of the United States, utter during a televised news conference, the following statements to wit: "The United States is the Mastermind of all wrongdoings of the Chun Doo Hwan regime in South Korea, her actual colony."; "I thought to myself why should American soldiers be at the Dermarcation Line dividing another's country in two. Clearly this an unnatural and artificial state of affairs. This made me feel shameful and disgraceful to be there."; "It's fully unjustifiable for the United States to be in South Korea"; "My coming over to North Korea was a demonstration of my outrage against corrupt foreign and domestic policies of the US Government."; "Marshall Kim Il Sung is a well known commander who fought against the Japanese and led the heroic armed struggle against US Imperialism."; "In fact, I think the real purpose of the United States in South Korea is to keep South Korea for its colony and to teach a point forever. The Chum Do Hwan regime has no right. The ROK [Republic of Korea] Army is completely under the Commander, US Forces Command. Today, the South  Korean people have come to gradually know this and regard the US not as a friend but as the main cause preventing Korea's reunification and is the main cause of all their misfortunes. As long as the US Forces occupy South Korea, Korea cannot be unified. The US troops should withdraw from South Korea as early as possible as the Korean people have demanded."; "Only after I came to to peace with North Korea did I come to clearly understand that it is not justifiable for the United States to occupy South Korea and make preparations for a nuclear warfare,";"The US should not prevent Korea's reunification but should withdraw US aggression forces from South Korea."; I want to say this to all GIs in South Korea. US GIs have no reasons to be in South Korea. They have no reason whatsoever to be against North Korea. It is a criminal act to prevent Korea's reunification. I think they should demand immediate US troop withdrawal."; or words to that effect, which statements were disloyal to the United States, said offense occurring outside the territorial limits of the United States. 

Specification 2. In that Private First Class Joseph T. White, U.S. Army, Company A. 1st Battalion, 31st Infantry, 3rd Brigade, 2nd Infantry Division, Republic of Korea, did, at various places in the Democratic People's Republic of Korea, from on or about 28 August until on or about  ___________ [left blank] without proper authority, knowingly communicate and hold intercourse with the enemy by crossing the Military Demarcation Line between the Democratic People's Republic of Korea and Republic of Korea into the Democratic People's Republic of Korea and there associating with and remaining with the people and government of the Democratic People's Republic of Korea, said offense occurring outside the territorial limits of the United States.

Specification 3. In that Private First Class Joseph T. White, U.S. Army, Company A. 1st Battalion, 31st Infantry, 3rd Brigade, 2nd Infantry Division, Republic of Korea, did, at Pyongyang, Democratic People's Republic of Korea, on or about 4 September 1982, aid the enemy with anti-United States of America and anti-republic of Korea propaganda by furnishing and delivering to the Democratic People's Republic of Korea the following statements during a televised news conference to wit: "The United States is the Mastermind of all wrongdoings of the Chun Doo Hwan regime in South Korea, her actual colony."; "I thought to myself why should American soldiers be at the Dermarcation Line dividing another's country in two. Clearly this an unnatural and artificial state of affairs. This made me feel shameful and disgraceful to be there."; "It's fully unjustifiable for the United States to be in South Korea"; "My coming over to North Korea was a demonstration Of my outrage against corrupt foreign and domestic policies of the US Government."; "Marshall Kim Il Sung is a well known commander who fought against the Japanese and led the heroic armed struggle against US Imperialism."; "Thus I came to know that South Korea has no democracy and that people do not support South Korean rulers such as Park Chung Hee and Chun Doo Hwan. It's not so long ago since I arrived in South Korea but I have personally experienced the reality"; "In fact, I think the real purpose of the United States in South Korea is to keep South Korea for its colony and to teach a point forever. The Chum Do Hwan regime has no right. The ROK [Republic of Korea] Army is completely under the Commander, US Forces Command. Today, the South  Korean people have come to gradually know this and regard the US not as a friend but as the main cause preventing Korea's reunification and is the main cause of all their misfortunes. As long as the US Forces occupy South Korea, Korea cannot be unified. The US troops should withdraw from South Korea as early as possible as the Korean people have demanded."; "Only after I came to to peace with North Korea did I come to clearly understand that it is not justifiable for the United States to occupy South Korea and make preparations for a nuclear warfare,";"The US should not prevent Korea's reunification but should withdraw US aggression forces from South Korea."; I want to say this to all the US GIs in South Korea. US GIs have no reasons to be in South Korea. They have no reason whatsoever to be against North Korea. It is a criminal act to prevent Korea's reunification. I think they should demand immediate US troop withdrawal."; or words to that effect, said offense occurring outside the territorial limits of the United States.

After the defection

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PFC Joseph White in North Korea.

One soldier recalls that in the days following White's defection, North Korean propaganda along the guard post increased.

They would call out our names over the speakers to come North and join him. I didn't even know the guy.

His squad found it a little amusing because of the North Koreans' poor pronunciation of their names.

There was also a North Korean soldier who would call out insults and threats to the Americans and then serenade them with Korean songs. The Americans were less than impressed with his singing voice and likened it to what "would make a frog wince."

South Korean soldiers were also talking about White's defection. Hong Duck-hwa recalls that they were told White had gone across with a M60 (machine gun).

Everybody thought White must have been a very muscular guy like [Sylvester Stallone] Rocky.

White Press Conference

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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.

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The Foreign Broadcast Information Service Korean Affairs Report No 243 dated 24 September 12982 published the transcripts of White’s North Korean press conferences.

JOSEPH WHITE GIVES PYONGYANG PRESS CONFERENCE Pyongyang, 4 September 1982 (KCNA)

Joseph T. White a soldier of the United States Army occupying South Korea, who crossed over to the northern half of the republic some time ago in search of a political asylum was interviewed by home and foreign reporters in Pyongyang today.

Joseph T. White hailing from St. Louis, Missouri in the United States served as Private First Class in the third squad, third platoon, A Company, first battalion, 31st regiment, second division of the U.S. Army stationed in South Korea. Explaining why he sought a political refuge, he said:

The first reason is that I thought it unjustifiable for the U.S. administration to send U.S. troops to South Korea.

High ranking officers told us when we were sent to South Korea in 11arch this year that the U.S. troops were being sent to South Korea to "protect" South Korea from "aggression" from the North. But, I had some doubt of the mission of the U.S. forces in South Korea while serving in the army there.

I have come to think of this more firmly as days go by and thought of freeing myself from such a disgraceful life as early as possible. In short, I did not want to dedicate my youth to the wrong the U.S. administration forced upon me.

I am opposed to the unwarrantable policy pursued by the U.S. administration. I also wanted to show the world the corruptness, criminality, immorality, weakness, and hedonism of the U. S. society and government. My coming over to the North was a demonstration of my outrage against the corrupt domestic and foreign policies of the U.S. Government.

The second reason is that I wished for a life of worth, to be enjoyed by all men. People like me can have no hope in the United States after being discharged from the army. I have always thought of the fair society where people can lead a happy life free from exploitation and oppression.

Last month I happened to see pictures carried in the U.S. magazine LIFE, July issue, showing the 70th birthday celebrations of Marshal Kim Il-song

I was greatly impressed by the pictures. The pictures and other information I collected made me firmly believe that the North Koreas are leading a happy and stable life under the wise leadership of the great leader President Kim Il-song and the dear leader Kim Chong, convinced that North Korea where the great leader President Kim II-song is effecting policy for the people is the land where I would be able to enjoy a free and happy life. This firm belief made me take a brave and determined action.

He said that at midnight on 28 August, when he was on duty in the demilitarized zone, he ran for the Korean People's Army post, following the way which he had tried to get himself acquainted with before his coming over and succeeded in coming over to the North in search of a political asylum.

Noting that the South Korean people regard the United States not as their "friend" but as the main cause preventing Korea's reunification and as the main source of all their misfortunes, he stressed. The U.S. troops should withdraw from South Korea as early as possible as the Korean people demand.

Speaking of what he felt after coming over to the northern half of the republic in search of a political asylum, White said:

I could feel that people in North Korea ate free and happy. I could sense no war atmosphere in the streets where peaceful construction is in full swing. Only after I came to peaceful North Korea, I came to further clearly understand that it is not justifiable for the United States to occupy South Korea arid to make preparations for a nuclear warfare.

He stressed:

The U.S. Government should not prevent Korea's reunification but withdraw the U.S. aggression forces from South Korea to say this to the U. S. GIs in South Korea. U. S. GIs have no say on whatsoever to be against North Korea. It is a criminal act to prevent Koreas reunification. I think U.S. GIs should demand troop withdrawal from South Korea.

Further On White's Press Remarks

Pyongyang, 4 September 1982 (KCNA)--Joseph T. White, a soldier of the U.S. Army occupying South Korea, who crossed over to the northern half of the republic some time ago in search of a political asylum was interviewed by home and foreign reporters on 4 September at the People's Palace of Culture. A portrait of the great leader Comrade Kim Il-song was hung on the wall of the press conference room. Present there were reporters of NODONGSINMUN, the Korean Central News Agency, the DPRK Radio and Television Broadcasting Committee and other press organs and foreign correspondents in Pyongyang.

Joseph T. White spoke first at the press conference.

Joseph T. White:

I served as PFC in the 3rd Squad, 3rd Pt, A Co, 1st Battalion, 31st Regiment, 2nd Div of the U.S. Army stationed in South. Korea. I am from Missouri in the United States. I have my parent [as received], two brothers and two sisters in my home. I finished 8-year school, 4-year high school and left a college when I was in the first grade.

I joined in the army on 27 October 1981, and was sent to South Korea in March 1982. I came over to North Korea crossing ,the military demarcation line, seeking a political asylum on 28 August last.

Nobody instigated me to come over to North Korea. I sought a political refuge not by any passing emotion but by my deep conviction. Now allow me to tell you the reason why I have sought a political asylum.

The first reason is that I thought it"unjustifiable for the U.S. administration to send U.S. troops to South Korea. High ranking officers told us when we were sent to South Korea in March this year that the U.S. troops were being sent to South Korea to "protect" South Korea from "aggression" from the North.

But, I had some doubt of the mission of the U.S.forces in South Korea while serving in the army there.

When I was in the United States, I happened to see the Kwangju incident which took place in South Korea through television in some awful feeling. I saw armed police and armymen killing lots of inhabitants right and left and thought that they were very brutal.

The Chon Tu-hwan "regime" in South Korea is corrupted and barbarous. The stupendous check loan scandal directly linked to Chon Tu-hwan which was disclosed not long ago is a good proof of this.

People say that Chon Tu-hwan's days are also numbered. However, the United States is giving this corrupted South Korean "regime" lots of U.S. made weapons and dollars; deploying even nuclear weapons in South Korea. The United States is the mastermind of all wrong doings of the Chon Tu-hwan "regime" in South Korea, her actual colony. Now I think it completely disagreeable that the United States sent us to South Korea.

Performing duty at the military demarcation line since last July. I came to realize that what they call "threat of aggression from the North" was a sheer lie. I could see a peaceful life in the North through telescopes.

What I saw were farmers and tractors farming in broad fields and beautiful farm villages. I thought to myself, why should we American soldiers be at the demarcation line dividing others country into two? This made me feel shameful and disgraceful to be there.

I could notice sharp eyes of South Koreans focused on me walking along a street in South Korea.But~ I could fully understand their feeling toward us.

It is fully unjustifiable for the U.S. troops to be in South Korea. I have come to think of this more firmly as days go by and thought of freeing myself from such a disgraceful life as early as possible.

In short, I did not want to dedicate my youth to the wrong the U.S. administration forced upon me. I am opposed to the unwarrantable policy pursued by the U.S. administration. I also wanted to show the world the corruptness, crimina1ity, immorality, weakness, and hedonism of the U.S. society and government.

My coming over to the North was a demonstration of my outrage against the corrupt domestic and foreign policies of the U.S. Government. The second reason is that I wished for a life of worth to be enjoyed by all men.

My family in the United States is a working-class family. My father works at a factory and my two brothers can find no employment. I had to leave the college because college is a burden too great for the common people.

I keenly felt through my personal experience that the United States was a "paradise" for the rich and powerful men, but a hell wherethep06r people had to suffer from starvation and poverty.

People like me can have no hope in the United States after being discharged from the army. I have always thought of the fair society where people can lead a happy life free from exploitation and oppression. While working in the demilitarized zone, I came to know there is a way leading me to a truly worthy life. I cast my eye on North Korea.

As early as in my school days, I had a chance to read about Marshal Kim Il-song, the great leader of the Korean people and the hero of the 20th century. Marshal Kim Il-song is a well~known commander who fought against Japanese imperialism and led the heroic armed struggle to a victory and defeated U.S. imperialism.

In addition, Marshal Kim II-song has built a mighty industrial state in North Korea which had been reduced to ashes by U.S. bombing. Be has built a new society where every people can lead a happy life being freed from any worry about food, clothing and shelter.

Last month I happened to see pictures carried on the U.S. magazine LIFE, July issue, showing the 70th birthday celebrations of Marshal Kim II-song. I was greatly impressed by the pictures. The pictures and other information I collected made me firmly believe that the North Koreans are leading a happy and stable life under the wise leadership of the great leader President Kim II-song and the dear leader Kim Chong-il. I was convinced that North Korea where the great leader President Kim II~song is effecting policy for the people in the land where I would be able to enjoy a free and happy life. This firm belief made me take a brave and determined action. I took the chance when I was on duty at midnight on 28 August to leave the post for the North.

It was a risky way. But, it couldn't prevent me from coming to North Korea in search of real freedom and happiness. I succeeded in coming over to the North at last. It was a significant day for me to come over to the bright new society. I will not forget the day. This is what brought me here to North Korea.

Then he answered questions raised by reporters.

NODONG SINMUN reporter:

I would like to hear a detailed explanation of Joseph T. White about his motive for coming over to the northern half of the republic to seek a political refuge.

Joseph T. White:

Since July 1982~ I have performed guard duty at; a Guard Post in the demilitarized zone in the forward area. Since that time on I have longed for coming over to North Korea and have thought of seeking a political refuge in the northern half of the republic.

On the night of 27 August I was on duty together with a Negro GI at the gate of the GP. Our guard post is surrounded by wire entanglement and the door is locked. We had to perform guard duty at tree points at night. Each point had two men posted.

The duty on the night at the gate, I thought, was a good chance to come over to North Korea. And, so I made the Negro fellow sleep in a trench where other GIs take rest. After he fell asleep, I took the magazine out of his rifle thinking the worst case.

And then I destroyed the lock of the gate with my M-16 rifle," came out of the wire entanglement and headed for the North. It was about half past one in the morning. I ran and ran with the rifle and gear. When I covered about 2 km, I unexpectedly saw a lake in my way. I came to realize that I was coming not to the North but to the South. The lake is located just in the rear of our GP.

I changed my course to the North. It nearly 5 o'clock when the day was going to break. I did my best not to be observed by those who kicked up a fuss all the night by firing at random. Therefore, I crossed the demarcation line at the point far from the GP not to be discovered.

I ran and ran toward KPA guard post following the way which I tried to get myself acquainted with before my coming over. I shouted toward a KPA post when I came near the post. In this way I succeeded in coming over to the North in search of a political asylum.

DPRK Radio and Television Broadcasting Committee reporter:

I would like to know the sentiment of·the South Korean people toward the U.S.

Joseph T. White:

I think the feeling of the Korean people toward the United States is not good. Now, South Koreans have increasing complaints toward the United States.

They say students in Kangwon Province held a U.S. flag burning. South Korean students have been waging anti-government," anti-U.S. demonstrations in succession. In March this year, they burnt the U.S. Cultural Center in Pusan. All of this proves that anti-U.S. sentiment is growing among the South Koreans.

High ranking officers of the U. S. Army in South Korea worry about this. The U.S. support to Chon Tu-hwan "regime" adds to the anti-U.S. sentiment of the South Koreans.

When I was in the United States, I witnessed on television the student revolt in Kwangju. I saw army helicopters flying overhead, soldiers patrolling the streets, and students and police battling. The revolt was brutally suppressed.

And, I learned through newspapers and television many times of the struggles waged by South Korean students for democracy in society and of the atrocious acts of police and soldiers suppressing them. Thus, I came to know that South Korea has no democracy and that people did not support South Korean rulers such as Pak Chong-hui and Chon Tu-hwan.

It is not so long since I arrived in South Korea. But I personally witnessed the reality in South Korea.

As I have told you; the U.S. administration sent us U.S. GIs to South Korea, saying that we· had to protect South. Korea from "the threat of southward aggression. " But, I think the real purpose of the U. S. administration in sending the U.S. troops to South Korea is to protect the South Korean "regime" from the people's resistance and to hold South Korea as its colony forever. In fact the U.S. is an actual ruler over South Korea. South Korea is a colony of the U.S.; the Chon Tu-hwan regime has no right; whatsoever. The South Korean ROK Army" is completely under the command of the U.S. Forces Command.

Today, the South Korean people have come to gradually know of this and regard the United States not as their friend but as the main cause preventing Korea's reunification and as the main source of all of their misfortunes.

As long as the U.S. forces occupy South Korea, Korea cannot be unified. The U.S. troops should withdraw from South Korea as early as possible as the Korean people demand.

Korean Central News Agency reporter:

I would like to hear what you have felt after your coming over to the DPRK.

Joseph T. White:

What impressed me deeply is the kindness of North Koreans. This is what I felt as so on as I came over to North Korea.

When I crossed the demarcation line, I had a little worry about how North Koreans would treat me. But, I was soon freed from the worry when I met kind and modest North Korean soldiers. This made me glad and feel that I am in a land where a man can enjoy a truly worthy life.

During time, I had a chance to look around Pyongyang. This gave me another impression. At a sight of the streets, I could feel that people in North Korea are free and happy •. Unlike the United States and South Korea no beggars can be seen in the streets and no jobless men sitting in the streets for lack of employment. People in the streets looked very happy. They all seemed smiling filled with pleasure.

In short. Pyongyang looks like a park and people there looked lively. Many new modern houses have been constructed everywhere. I could sense no war atmosphere in the streets where peaceful construction is in full swing.

And I visited Mangyongdae a few days ago. I felt a deep impression there. I will keep it in my mind for a long time.

An ordinary thatch-roofed house. I could see there, Mangyongdae. In the obsolescent thatch-roofed house the president of the country was born. Looking around the house at Mangyongdae,the native place of President Kim II-song, the brilliant commander of anti-Japanese armed forces and great leader in building a new society, I felt in my heart that he is really a great leader of the people.

MINJU CHOSON reporter:

Do you have anything to tell to the U.S. Government: and to your fellow GIs?

Joseph T. White:

Only after I came to peaceful North Korea, I came to further clearly understand that it is not justifiable for the United States to occupy South Korea and to make preparations for a nuclear warfare. I think the U.S. Government should not waste huge amounts of money and wealth in such reckless things but give poor people in the United States food and jobs so that they may enjoy a peaceful life. The US. Government should not prevent Korea's reunification but withdraw the U.S. aggression forces from South Korea.

I want to say this to the U.S. GIs in South Korea. U.S. GIs have no reason whatsoever to be against North. Korea. It is a criminal act to prevent Korea's reunification. I think U.S. GIs should demand troop withdrawal from South Korea.

I have my parent, brothers and sisters and relatives living in the United States. They maybe persecuted by the U.S. administration because of my coming over to the North in search of political refuge. But~ that will only make my will stronger. I hope you convey what I have said through all ways and means.

I am now enjoying a good time, free from any inconvenience. I know this is thanks to the great care of the respected and beloved President Kim II-song and of the dear leader Kim Chong-iI. I assure you that I will do my best for peace and justice and for Korea's reunification.

I would like to avail myself of this opportunity to express my deepest thanks to President Kim II-song the great leader of the Korean people and to the dear leader Kim Chong-il.

He rose from his seat and bowed to the portrait of the great leader and said:

Great leader President Kim Il-song, thank you.

Long live the great leader President Kim II-song.

Long live the dear leader Kim Chong-il.

The Leaflets

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The first leaflet disseminated to exploit PFC Joseph T. White's defection

This leaflet written in Hangul (Korean) is numbered 258894 and was disseminated by North Korea shortly after PFC White's defection to North Korea. The front of the leaflet depicts a photo of White in uniform as he was dressed when he defected to North Korea. Below is another photo by White with a statement as to why he chose to defect to North Korea.

The back of the leaflet shows the eqipment White was carrying when he defected which included an M16A1 rifle equipped with an M203 grenade launcher, 3 ammo magazines, web belt with suspenders, ammo pouches and canteen. The back also depicts a message in Hangul followed by the signature of  Jospeph T. White.

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Leaflet exploiting PFC Joseph T. White's News Conference

This leaflet written in Hangul (Korean) is numbered 008895 and was disseminated by North Korea around the time of PFC White's first news conference (4 September 1982) in North Korea. The front of the leaflet depicts a photo of of the news conference with White's image in battle dress uniform enlarged at the left. Unfortunately I do not have the translation for this leaflet. 

The back of the leaflet depicts a hand drawn map of the route White took to defect across the DMZ into North Korea. The back also depicts a message in Hangul followed by Jospeph T. White's printed name in English..

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A leaflet of PFC Joseph White in Pyongyang.

In January 1983, this leaflets numbered 190102 written in English appeared along the DMZ.  It depicts PFC White's contented life in North Korea.The title on the front is:

Full of happiness and hope!

The first photo shows him sitting in a chair while be entertained by two lovely women. the text is:

A moment of enjoying rest.

The second photo depicts him driving a new car while a women (one of the same ladies in the first photo) gives him direction. The text is:

On the way to sightseeing.

The third photo on the front shows White walking with two beutiful women. The text is:

Walking along theb Changgwang street in Pyongang

The back of the leaflet depicts a photo of White writing a letter on the left of the leaflet and a photo of a handwritten note by White’ on the left.

Dear old fellow friends,

I have been leading a contented life under the warm care of the DPRK [Democratic Peoples Republic of Korea]. I have become fond of life in the capital, seeing the sights, and visiting the institutions of culture. My seeking asylum is very right conduct.

Joseph T 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.

A Letter from White to His Parents

In February 1983, White's parents were surprised to receive a letter bearing North Korean stamps - it was from their son. The letter came to White and his wife Kathleen through the U.S. Postal Service from the office of Sen. John C. Danforth (R-Mo.), where it was received earlier last week from North Korea's permanent observer mission to the United Nations.

A spokesman at the North Korean mission in New York said yesterday that the letter had arrived by diplomatic pouch but refused to elaborate. The handwritten letter was datelined Pyongyang, capital of North Korea.

The Norval White, said that:

Even though the letter is three or four months old, we're just grateful to God to have it. Until this, we didn't even know for sure Joey was alive.

PFC White claimed he was happy and working as an English tutor for two students. He informed them that he was well and had helped harvest crops the previous fall. He expressed his love and concern for his family. He asked for a dictionary and an almanac but said nothing about his defection. Unbeknown to them, it would be their only letter from him while he was alive.

While Norval White declined to read directly from the letter, he acknowledged that its tone seems to argue strongly that his son has no intention of coming home and that his defection was voluntary, as has long been claimed by Army officials.

Yes, it does; yes, it certainly seems that way. Christmas was very bad for us, but we feel a little better now.

Maybe one day we'll know why he did it--not that it would make make any difference in his current situation. You've got to go with the present situation, and that seems to be that Joe went over there on his own.

For weeks, his parents continued to believe their son had not defected. Mrs. White had stood in front of their home in a working-class, south St. Louis neighborhood and told reporters the story made no sense.

In an interview she stated that:

He would have had to change his whole personality in a week.

The only way she might maintain interior peace in the future, she said, is by promising herself that she will find enough money and obtain permission to visit her son in North Korea and ask why he left. 

Norval White said:

We're going to try to send him that dictionary and almanac, We'll get them and just send them to Joe White, care of Pyongyang, North Korea. That's all we have.

Many wonderful, supportive people prayed that we might receive some contact, and we want to thank them all and say that in turn we ask God to bless each and every one of them. We've had letters from all over the country.

White quoted his son, the fourth of five children, as saying that:

The people he had met were very moral, hard-working and have great respect for authority, teachers and senior citizens.

The Final letter

Back in the United States, as the months passed and then years, White's name faded from the American media, White's parents were determined to return to a normal life with their other four children. They had already packed away the posters that once adorned his walls and the pictures of his former girlfriend. Outwardly their son Joseph was dead to them, but in their hearts he was still there - a lost son that they prayed would return, or at least contact them.

On November 5, 1985, the White family received another letter from North Korea. It was Joseph's 24th birthday. White's father described the letter as "a cruel twist of fate," because instead of happy tidings from their son, it brought only the news of his unexpected death.

The letter dated Aug. 22, 1985 was written by "Joe's best friend and a student of English," Li Gun-ho. The writer claimed that Joseph drowned in the Chongchon River during an outing with friends. The letter alleged that one of his new friends heroically tried to save him but both drowned and their bodies were never recovered.

Li Gun-ho wrote that on Aug. 17, White had suggested to three of his Korean friends (including Li) that they go on a picnic on the banks of the Chongchon River. There they talked and drank red wine. At some point White decided to swim across the river. He was described as a "fearless adventurer" but had been warned it was dangerous to swim in such a "swelled and fast stream."

Li went on to explain that:

When he [White] reached the middle of the river he suddenly dipped his body in the water and tossed his head and then began wriggling. It seemed that he had been caught in a swirl of fast water.

One of White's Korean companions jumped into the river to help rescue him, but he failed, and both men drowned. According to Li, they never recovered the bodies.

Li spoke of the "happy days when we [White and his Korean friends] had the running and the mountaineering in the morning, and strolls in the evening while learning English from him." However, Li's rosy picture of events seems suspicious.

Controversy on White's Death

The explanation that White died from drowning in the Chongchon River after drinking wine with his friends was doubted by many.

Some have suggested White became too troublesome and either accidentally died as a result of punishment or was deliberately killed.

The timing of his death, almost exactly three years after his defection and the letter informing his parents of his death arriving on his birthday, may be nothing more than a coincidence but they do raise some questions. Even the name of his "best friend" - Li Gun-ho, sounds very similar to the phrase that his mother had used to describe her son. She had insisted that he was "gung-ho."

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Despite the family's pleas, the body of America's last defector, PFC Joseph White, still has not been returned to his family for the Roman Catholic burial they desire. Apparently, when you cross that line, you are gone forever - even in death.

Kathleen White, PFC Joseph White's mother, told the local newspaper:

All I really want now is a Catholic funeral service so that he could be buried near his grandparents and great-grandparents. If that could happen I could have some peace of mind.

The newspaper article also reported that:

Kathleen White said that she was disappointed that she and her husband Norval had not received a small box of White's personal effects. The box had been sent to the U.S. Embassy in Moscow, and State Department officials say it will be shipped to her parents.

Perhaps White found happiness in the rigid discipline and mandated worship of Kim Il-sung, at least for a time. Perhaps he happily began his days with supervised calisthenics, proudly wearing the portrait of the Great Leader on his shirt, spending an hour midday attending lectures, then after work attending several more hours of indoctrination before returning to a cinder block apartment decorated with pictures of the self-styled God. Or maybe he soon realized his decision was a mistake, and the North Koreans simply disposed of him after prodding him for information. Whatever happened to White is known only to the most repressive regime on the planet, and the truth may never be known to the outside world.

Another Defector Speaks Up

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Former Army Sergeant Charles Jenkins as a young soldier, and then during his court martial in 2004.

In his autobiography The Reluctant Communist, former Army Sergeant Charles Jenkins, who defected in 1965 and was repatriated to Japan in 2006, was asked about what he knew about PFC White:

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.

He also wrote that plans were in the works for White to share housing with one of the other American defectors, but it eventually fell through. According to Jenkins' government minders, White suffered an epileptic seizure of some form and was left paralyzed. Following that, Jenkins heard nothing more about him:

I never heard from him or saw him again. However, on April 15, 1984, 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?

He told me:

'Uh-uh. We can’t use White'. He said that White had had some sort of accident or stroke and was now paralyzed.

Conclusion

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. One has to wonder if White was killed because North Korea 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. My guess is that the PFC White became disillusioned with his life in North Korea and wanted to go home. A defector is only as good as his or her commitment to the cause. If White really believed that the Democratic People's Republic of Korea was the best thing since sliced bread,  North Korea would have continually kept using him as a tool for their propaganda.  Someone up North knows the truth, but we will probably never know what really happened.

This artcle is a brief history of Private First Class Joseph T. White and his defection to North Korea. Any reader with comments, additions, or suggestions is encouraged to send them to the author at psywarrior@pipeline.com.com.