Joseph T. White
|Joseph T. White|
November 5, 1961|
St. Louis, Missouri, U.S.
|Died||August 1, 1985
Ch'ongch'on River, North Korea (officially)
|Allegiance|| United States (1961–1982)
North Korea (1982–1985)
|Service/branch||United States Army|
|Years of service||1981–1982 (defected)|
|Unit||1st Battalion, 31st Infantry Regiment|
Joseph T. White (November 5, 1961 — August 1, 1985) was a United States Army soldier who defected from a U.S. border site, which monitored DMZ movement to North Korea on August 28, 1982. A member of 1/31st Infantry, 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 with 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. 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.
North Korean authorities refused a request by UNC 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.
Prior to White's defection, Charles Jenkins was the last U.S. soldier to cross the demilitarized zone into North Korea. (Roy Chung, who deserted after Jenkins but before White, did not cross the DMZ but instead defected to East Germany and later arrived in North Korea.) 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.
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. Then, on November 5, 1985, the day of White's 24th birthday, 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 earlier that year in August. Despite the family's requests, White's body was never returned; the letter did mention that White's body was never recovered from the water.
- List of American and British defectors in the Korean War: the 21 Americans and 1 Briton who refused repatriation during Operation Big Switch in 1953 (to remain in China)
- Larry Allen Abshier (1943–1983) of Urbana, Illinois, deserted in May 1962 at age 19
- James Joseph Dresnok (born 1941) of Richmond, Virginia, deserted on August 15, 1962 at age 21
- Jerry Wayne Parrish (1944–1998) of Morganfield, Kentucky, deserted in December 1963 at age 19
- NORTH KOREA SAYS G.I. SEEKS ASYLUM, New York Times, August 29, 1982
- PRIVATE'S FAMILY DOUBTS HE DEFECTED, New York Times, September 2, 1982
- U.S. Says Missing G.I. Defected to North Korea, New York Times, September 19, 1982
- NORTH KOREANS BAR A U.S. MEETING WITH G.I., New York Times, September 14, 1982
- Joseph White's walk in the dark, Asia Times Online, Feb 23, 2007
- WHAT MADE JOE JUMP? A MOTHER WEEPS FOR HER G.I. SON WHO DEFECTED TO NORTH KOREA, LIFE, November 1982
- 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
- Alleged Defector To North Korea Writes Parents, Washington Post, Paul Hendrickson, February 14, 1983
- AMERICAN DEFECTOR TO NORTH KOREA DROWNED LAST SUMMER, LETTER SAYS, Barry Massey, Associated Press, Jan. 8, 1986