List of American and British defectors in the Korean War
This list names the twenty-two United Nations soldiers and POWs (one British and 21 Americans) who declined repatriation to the United Kingdom and United States after the Korean War in favor of remaining in China, and their subsequent fates. Also listed are soldiers who defected to North Korea.
Prisoner repatriation was one of the greatest stumbling blocks in the long cease-fire negotiations between the forces of the United Nations and those of China and North Korea. The warring factions finally agreed on an exchange of sick and wounded prisoners, Operation Little Switch, which was carried out in April and May 1953. That June, the two sides agreed that no prisoner who did not wish to be repatriated would be forced to do so (this had long been a sticking point in negotiations, with the Chinese and North Koreans wanting all prisoners returned to their home countries). Prisoners who did not wish to go back to their home countries would be given 90 days in a neutral compound near Panmunjom to reconsider before being allowed to stay in enemy territory. Following the armistice that was signed on 27 July 1953, effectively ending the Korean War (South Korea never signed), the main prisoner exchange was free to proceed.
Operation Big Switch, the exchange of remaining prisoners of war, commenced in early August 1953, and lasted into December. 75,823 Communist fighters (70,183 North Koreans, 5,640 Chinese) were returned to their homelands. 12,773 U.N. soldiers (7,862 South Koreans, 3,597 Americans, and 946 British) were sent back south across the armistice line. Over 22,000 Communist soldiers, the majority of whom were former Republic of China soldiers who fought against the Communists in the Chinese Civil War, refused repatriation. Similarly, 1 British and 23 American soldiers (along with 327 South Koreans) also refused to be returned to their homelands. Two, Corporal Claude Batchelor and Corporal Edward Dickenson, changed their minds before the 90-day window expired. Both were court-martialed and sentenced to prison terms, with Batchelor serving 4½ years and Dickenson 3½.
Shortly before the deadline was about to expire, Americans south of the DMZ broadcast a message to the defectors in Panmunjom, saying "We believe that there are some of you who desire repatriation." Defector Richard Corden shouted "Do any Americans want to go home?", and his fellow detainees answered "No!".
This left 22 U.N. soldiers who voluntarily stayed with the Communists after the final exchange of prisoners. The 21 Americans were given dishonorable discharges. This had the unintended consequence of rendering them immune to court-martial when they finally returned to the United States (which the majority eventually did), because they were no longer active-duty military. However, they were still criminally culpable for any acts of collaboration or offenses against fellow prisoners committed while they were POWs.
About 4 a.m. on February 24, 1954, a train carrying the 21 American defectors rumbled across the Yalu River into China. The Chinese soon shipped some of the men off to study language and politics. Others went to mills, factories, and farms across Eastern China.
List of defectors
- A soldier from Memphis, Tennessee. Adams cited racial discrimination in the United States as the reason he refused repatriation. While a prisoner, Adams took classes in Communist political theory, and afterwards lectured other prisoners in the camps. Because of this and other collaboration with his captors, his prosecution by the Army was likely upon his repatriation. During the Vietnam War, Adams made propaganda broadcasts for Radio Hanoi from their Chinese office, telling black American soldiers not to fight:
You are supposedly fighting for the freedom of the Vietnamese, but what kind of freedom do you have at home, sitting in the back of the bus, being barred from restaurants, stores and certain neighborhoods, and being denied the right to vote. ... Go home and fight for equality in America.
- He married a Chinese woman and lived in China until the increasingly anti-Western atmosphere of the Cultural Revolution led him to return to the United States in 1966. Adams was charged with treason by the House Un-American Activities Committee, but charges were dismissed. He later started a Chinese restaurant business in Memphis. Clarence Adams died in 1999. His autobiography An American Dream: The Life of an African American Soldier and POW Who Spent Twelve Years in Communist China was posthumously published in 2007 by his daughter Della Adams and Lewis H. Carlson.
- Adams, Howard (Sgt.)
- From Corsicana, Texas. He worked in a paper factory in Jinan. He refused all media requests for interviews.
- Belhomme, Albert Constant (Sgt.)
- A native of Belgium who immigrated to the United States as a teenager. He lived in China for ten years, working in a paper factory in Jinan, before returning to Antwerp,.
- Bell, Otho Grayson (Cpl.)
- Originally from Olympia, Washington. Chose not to return despite having a wife and baby girl back in the United States. In China, Bell was sent to a collective farm with William Cowart and Lewis Griggs (see below). Bell described himself, Cowart and Griggs as "the dummy bunch", saying they were sent to the farm because they could not learn Chinese. They returned to the United States together in July 1955, were arrested, but were released when it was found that the military no longer had jurisdiction over the defectors after they were dishonorably discharged. Bell died in 2003.
- Corden, Richard (Sgt.)
- A native of Chicago. He returned to the United States on 19 January 1958. He was reported to live in Milwaukee in 1961 and moved to Chicago in 1962. He reportedly continued to support communism after returning to the United States. He died in 1988.
- Cowart, William (Cpl.)
- Returned with Bell and Griggs (see below). Later the three soldiers sued for their back pay. The case went to the United States Supreme Court, which held that Bell, Cowart and Griggs were entitled to their back pay from the time they were captured to the time they were dishonorably discharged.
- Douglas, Rufus (Sgt.)
- Died in China a few months after arrival in 1954. The manner of his death is not certain but is believed to have been from natural causes.
- Dunn, John Roedel (Cpl.)
- Born in Altoona, Pennsylvania on June 29, 1928. He married a Czechoslovak woman while in China and settled in Czechoslovakia in December 1959. Died in Slovakia in 1996.
- Fortuna, Andrew (Sgt.)
- Originally from Greenup, Kentucky. He was awarded two Bronze Stars for his service in Korea before he was captured. He returned to the United States on 3 July 1957. He worked in Portsmouth, Ohio, in 1958; in Detroit, Michigan, from 1963-64; and Chicago in 1964. He was reported to be in Gary, Indiana, as of 1964. He died in 1984.
- Returned with Bell and Cowart in 1955. He was listed as a senior majoring in sociology at Stephen F. Austin State University, graduating in 1959. He died in 1984.
- Hawkins, Samuel David (Pfc.)
- From Oklahoma City. He married a Russian woman in China and returned to the United States in February 1957, shortly before his wife was permitted to come to the United States. He successfully petitioned the government to change his discharge from dishonorable to other than honorable. He raised a family, and has given interviews to the press on the condition that his location not be disclosed.
- Pate, Arlie (Cpl.)
- Worked in a paper mill before returning with Aaron Wilson (see below) in 1956. He died in 1999.
- Rush, Scott (Sgt.)
- Married in China. After living in China ten years, he and his wife moved to the United States and settled in the Midwest.
- Skinner, Lowell (Cpl. )
- His mother begged him to come home over the radio at the time of the prisoner exchange, to no avail. He married in China, but left his wife behind when he returned to America in 1963. Later he had problems with alcohol and spent six months in a psychiatric hospital. He died in 1995.
- Sullivan, LaRance
- Came home in 1958 and died in 2001.
- Tenneson, Richard (Pfc.)
- Came home in 1955. He went to Louisiana a few months later to welcome home fellow defector Aaron Wilson (see below). He settled in Utah before dying in 2001.
- Veneris, James (Pvt.)
- From Vandergrift, Pennsylvania. He stayed in China and became a dedicated communist, taking the Chinese name 'Lao Wen'. He worked in a steel mill, participated in the Great Leap Forward, hung posters during the Cultural Revolution, married three times and had children. He visited the United States in 1976 but returned to China, where he is buried.
- Webb, Harold (Sgt.)
- From Jacksonville, Florida. He married a Polish woman in China and moved to Poland in 1960, reportedly settling in Katowice. In 1988, he was given permission to settle in the United States. He is the subject of the Youth Defense League song Turncoat about rejection of a Korean War defector seeking a return to America.
- White, William (Cpl.)
- Married and obtained a bachelor's degree in international law while in China. He returned to the United States in 1965.
- Wills, Morris (Cpl.)
- From Fort Ann, New York. He played basketball for Peking University and got married in China. He returned to the US in 1965 and got a job in the Asian Studies Department at Harvard University. His autobiography, Turncoat: An American's 12 Years in Communist China, was published in 1966. He died in 1999.
- Wilson, Aaron (Cpl.)
- Originally from Urania, Louisiana. Cpl. Wilson was one of the five American defectors who never went beyond the eighth grade as a child. He was captured in 1950, during the first days of the Chinese-led counteroffensive that stymied the US gains on territory held by the North Koreans. His lack of education and three years of indoctrination are cited as reasons for his decision to stay. He returned to the US on 6 December 1956. Wilson married an American woman and worked in his Louisiana hometown's mill. Later in life Wilson flew an American flag from an 18-foot pole in his front yard. For an interview he gave to the Korean War Veterans Association in 2002 he told the interviewer, "This is the greatest country in the world, and maybe when I was 17 years old I didn't know it, but I do now."
- Condron, Andrew (Marine)
- Scotsman of 41 (Independent) Royal Marine Commando, was the only Briton to decline repatriation. He returned to Britain in 1960, and faced no disciplinary action.
- They Chose China (2005), a 52-minute documentary film, directed by Shui-Bo Wang. Includes interviews with Samuel Hawkins and the families of Clarence Adams and James Veneris (both of whom were already deceased when the film was made), and archived interviews with Veneris and Adams.
- Crossing the Line (Korean: 푸른 눈의 평양시민, "A Blue-Eyed Pyongyang Citizen in North Korea") is a 2006 documentary film by Daniel Gordon and Nicholas Bonner.
Six American servicemen are known to have defected to North Korea after the war:
- Larry Allen Abshier (1962)
- James Joseph Dresnok (1962)
- Jerry Wayne Parrish (1963)
- Charles Robert Jenkins (1965)
- Roy Chung (1979)
- Joseph T. White (1982)
- Where are Korean War Defectors Now? Grey Beards. Vol. 16. No. 4. July–August 2002.
- Tucker, Spencer C. (2012). Almanac of American Military History. ABC-CLIO.
- Operations Big and Little Switch
- 1966 TIME Magazine article about Clarence Adams
- Newspaper article about Clarence Adams
- "Whereabouts of Nine Turncoats Unknown.", Kingsport Post, 1965-12-30, retrieved 2010-12-31
- SCOTUS decision
- "The Korean War Prisoner Who Never Came Home". The New Yorker, blog by writer Brendan McNally. 10 December 2013. Retrieved 14 December 2013.
- Stephen F. Austin alumni
- TIME magazine article
- Article about Lowell Skinner
- Veneris interview
- Turncoat: An American's 12 Years in Communist China, by Morris Wills and J. Robert Moskin.
- 21 Stayed: The Story of the American GIs Who Chose Communist China, by Virginia Pasley.
- The Korean War, by Max Hastings. See Chapter 16, "The Prisoners".
- An American Dream : The Life of an African American Soldier and POW Who Spent Twelve Years in Communist China, by Clarence Adams. ISBN 978-1-55849-595-1.
- Frederick, Jim, "In from the Cold", Time, November 4, 2004.
- Essay on the GIs by Adam Zwieback
- 1963 TIME magazine article with quotes from Albert Belhomme
- AP feature with quotes from several of the repatriated GIs
- Watch They Chose China at NFB.ca