Joseph T. White

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Joseph T. White
Joseph T. White.png
Born(1961-11-05)November 5, 1961
St. Louis, Missouri, U.S.
DiedAugust 1, 1985(1985-08-01) (aged 23)
Ch'ongch'on River, North Korea
Allegiance United States (1961–1982)
 North Korea (1982–1985)
Service/branch United States Army (defected)
Years of service1981–1982 (defected)
Unit1st Battalion, 31st Infantry Regiment

Joseph T. White (November 5, 1961 — August 1, 1985) was a United States Army soldier who defected to North Korea on August 28, 1982.[1]

Life and career[edit]

Born to Norval and Kathleen White,[2] he had four siblings and volunteered for the 1980 Reagan presidential campaign before he could vote. 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.[3] He was also a member of the Boy Scouts and volunteered at a muscular dystrophy camp.[3] In 1980, he introduced another bill in the model legislature that called for Missouri to withdraw from the union, and a list of "present abuses and injustices" of the federal government. Rejected from West Point, he intended to join the Army directly but was persuaded by his parents to attend Kemper Military School in Boonville, Missouri. According to the school commandant, he remembered that White was an introvert.[3]

A member of 1/31st Infantry,[4] at around 2a.m., on August 28, 1982,[5] he shot the lock off one of the gates leading into the Korean Demilitarized Zone and was witnessed by fellow soldiers walking through the DMZ from Guard Post Ouellette, near Kaesong[3] with a duffle bag full of documents he stole from the site including the layout of mines which were buried on the South Korean side of the DMZ. He surrendered to North Korean troops. He was the first American soldier to request asylum in North Korea since January 1965 and the fifth since the Korean War.[6]

North Korean authorities refused a request by UNC representatives to meet White and ask him about the reasons for his defection.[7] 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",[8] before leading a chant in homage to North Korean leader Kim Il Sung.[5]

Prior to White's defection, Charles Jenkins, in 1965, was the last U.S. soldier to cross the demilitarized zone into North Korea.[1] Jenkins wrote in his memoirs that he never met White, but once saw him on state television at a press conference soon after the defection.[9] 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.

In February 1983, White's parents received a letter from their son, stating that he was happy in North Korea and working as an English teacher.[10]

In November 1985, his parents received a letter penned by a North Korean contact of White, stating that their son had died by drowning in the Ch'ongch'on River in August 1985, and his body was not recovered.[11] A copy of the letter was released by Dick Gephardt, then a Congressman representing Missouri, in early 1986.[11]

See also[edit]


^ Roy Chung deserted after Jenkins but before White, but did not cross the DMZ.


  1. ^ NORTH KOREA SAYS G.I. SEEKS ASYLUM, New York Times, August 29, 1982
  2. ^ "U.S. Now Says Soldier Went Over To The North Koreans Voluntarily". The New York Times. United Press International. 2 September 1982. Retrieved 9 February 2018.
  3. ^ a b c d Bailey, Greg (28 October 2009). "What Happened to Joseph White?". Failure Mag.
  4. ^ "Private's Family Doubts He Defected". The New York Times. 2 September 1982. Retrieved 9 February 2018.
  5. ^ a b Friend, David. "What Made Joe Jump? A Mother Weeps For Her G.I. Son Who Defected To North Korea". Life (November 1982). Retrieved 9 February 2018.
  6. ^ "U.S. Says Missing G.I. Defected to North Korea". The New York Times. Reuters. 19 September 1982. Retrieved 9 February 2018.
  7. ^ "North Koreans Bar A U.S. Meeting With G.I." The New York Times. United Press International. 14 September 1982. Retrieved 9 February 2018.
  8. ^ Neff, Robert (23 February 2007). "Joseph White's walk in the dark". Asia Times. Retrieved 9 February 2018.
  9. ^ The Reluctant Communist: My Desertion, Court-Martial, and Forty-Year Imprisonment in North Korea, Charles Robert Jenkins, Jim Frederick, University of California Press, 2009, page 116
  10. ^ Hendrickson, Paul (14 February 1983). "Alleged Defector To North Korea Writes Parents". The Washington Post. Retrieved 9 February 2018.
  11. ^ a b Massey, Barry (8 January 1986). "American Defector to North Korea Drowned Last Summer, Letter Says". Associated Press. Retrieved 9 February 2018.