Posted: 8/23/2004 12:03:46 PM EST
I remember hearing about some of the Americans who decided to remain with the communists after the truce in Panmunjom and remembered reading about one around twenty years ago. I was doing a search the other day and came across this, too:
Anyone been following this jerkoff?
U.S. defector in North Korea interviewed
James Dresnok says he and Charles Jenkins are last Americans
The Associated Press
Updated: 9:24 a.m. ET Aug. 16, 2004
BEIJING - The man believed to be the last American defector still living in North Korea says he has no plans to return home, according to two British filmmakers who interviewed him for a documentary.
James Dresnok was a U.S. Army private when he crossed over the Stalinist state in 1962. He lives now in the North Korean capital Pyongyang, where he says he likes his “simple life,” said filmmaker Nicholas Bonner, who met him there in May.
“To us he’s the most fascinating character because he’s still there,” Bonner said Sunday in Beijing.
The U.S. military has said that Dresnok, from Richmond, Va., left the army in August 1962 at age 21.
The film crew met with Dresnok and with Charles Jenkins, an accused U.S. army deserter from Rich Square, N.C., who has since left North Korea for medical treatment in Japan.
'They took good are of us'
“We were under the supervision of the North Korean military,” Dresnok told the filmmakers, according to their news release. “They took good care of us and they requested us to teach English to military personnel.”
Dresnok and Jenkins told the filmmakers that two other American servicemen had died in North Korea of natural causes — Pvt. Larry A. Abshier of Urbana, Ill., who the U.S. military says went missing from his unit in May 1962 at age 19, and Cpl. Jerry W. Parrish of Morganfield, Ky., who is accused of deserting in December 1963 at age 19.
“I did not want to stay in DPRK at first,” Dresnok told the filmmakers, referring to North Korea by the initials of its formal name. “I wanted to go to Russia,” he said.
“Having crossed, after a few months, I began thinking it over and decided to remain,” he is quoted as saying.
“I’m glad I did, because about 10 years ago, Russia changed from socialism to capitalism. If I was in Russia right now, I would be out of work,” he said. “It would be the same if I returned to America. I find it more convenient to live among peaceful people, living a simple life.”
The interviews were arranged by the North Korean government, and it’s unclear whether the Americans had any opportunity to make comments critical of life in the secretive and repressive state had they wanted to.
Jenkins’ nephew in the United States believes he was coerced into working for North Korea, where he appeared in propaganda films.
Jenkins, who is still wanted by U.S. authorities on charges he deserted his post in 1965, arrived in Japan last month for medical treatment and to be reunited with his wife.
His wife, Hitomi Soga, was kidnapped from Japan by North Korean agents in 1978 and married Jenkins two years later. She returned home to Japan in 2002 along with other Japanese who had been abducted, following pressure on Pyongyang from the Tokyo government.
Bonner and fellow filmmaker Daniel Gordon plan to film interviews with Dresnok in September.
They have previously made two films in North Korea, in association with the BBC and with cooperation from Pyongyang.
And the original story I was wanting to read:
A few of the '21 pro-Red POWs' tell of defection to China
By Sharon L. Crenson and Martha Mendoza, Associated Press
The old man knows he is being asked the question for a special reason.
Is John Walker Lindh — the young Californian accused of fighting for the Taliban — a traitor?
Sam Hawkins remembers when Americans asked the same question about him, back when he was a young soldier and a new, uneasy truce draped the Korean peninsula
"Traitor, yeah, they called me a traitor," he said. "But I wasn't really." Lindh, he said, is a different story.
In the winter of 1954, Hawkins was among 21 American prisoners of war who refused to come home after the Korean War. Instead, they headed to communist China, shocking their families and their nation.
The Associated Press recently tracked down several surviving members of the original "21 balky pro-Red POWs," as this wire service called them back then. Ten have died. Two reportedly remain in China. Two apparently settled in Europe.
And seven live quietly here in the States. They were not pleased to be found, and those who agreed to be interviewed spoke on the condition that their locations not be disclosed. Judging by their words, they are genuinely patriotic.
"When you walk over this country line, you ought to get on the ground and kiss it, baby, because we've got something that nobody else has," Hawkins said. Then he leaned way back and laughed loud and hard. "I'm sure I ought to know."
Traitor, pure and simple
The widow of a CIA agent slain at the Afghan fort where Lindh was captured later told the world: "John Walker is a traitor because of the way he lived. It's so simple and I hope that all Americans will feel the same way."
Her words echo the outrage against Hawkins and his 20 cohorts, back when communism was the enemy.
The cases are quite different. Lindh reportedly joined the Taliban willingly; the Korean War defectors were prisoners of war who decided to go to China only after three years of communist indoctrination in the camps. And unlike Lindh, who is scheduled to be tried in August on charges of conspiring to kill Americans, none of the Korean War defectors was accused of taking up arms against American troops.
But there are also some parallels.
"What strikes me as similar between these guys and John Walker Lindh is the way this country reacted to them," said historian Adam Zweiback. "It obviously opened a lot of insecurities that Americans felt about themselves."
Then, as now, the nation was shocked and bewildered that a young American could decide to betray his country.
Today, if prodded, that first group of "turncoats" has something to say about being young, impressionable, and making bad decisions.
"I could be blase and say, well, let's give him a fair trial and then hang (him)," Hawkins said about Lindh. "But part of the thing people forget is that if you isolate anybody, they can be transformed."
Aaron Wilson, a retired heavy equipment operator who was among the first in Hawkins' group to return to the States, agrees.
"I think he's got himself in a mess," he said about Lindh, speaking in the drawl of a man reared in the central Louisiana woods. "He was probably just searching, following somebody or something."
Like Wilson once did.
"That experience, I just try to put it behind me now," he said. "It was a bad one."
Rich man, poor man
Most of the men who went to China with Wilson grew up poor.
Born during the Depression, the eldest of eight children, Wilson was raised in a Southern hamlet where most neighbors tilled vegetable gardens and labored in the local mill. In good times, his father made 75 cents an hour.
Most of the 21 came from broken homes, unusual at the time, but Wilson's family was close. He loved his "mother and daddy" so much he almost couldn't stand to leave.
In contrast, Lindh was seemingly eager to depart liberal Marin County, Calif., where he grew up comparatively well off. At 17, he persuaded his parents to send him to an expensive school in Yemen; and within months, his letters home would have seemed eerily familiar to the parents of Korean War soldiers like Wilson.
In one, for example, Lindh suggested his mother move to England, saying: "I really don't know what your big attachment to America is all about."
The sentiments echo those of the young defectors in Korea in late 1953.
"It is impossible to fight for peace in the United States," wrote Private First Class Arlie Pate. "Anyone who tries to fight for peace will be prosecuted and even put to death."
Scott "PeeWee" Rush told reporters, "I am determined to fight for peace and this (China) is the only place where I will have the freedom to do it."
What changed them? How could any American choose the drab blue-gray of Mao Tse-tung's cotton uniform or the turban and robes of Osama bin Laden?
War erupted in June 1950 when North Korean troops invaded the South in an attempt to unify the divided country. By November, American forces defending the South were all but triumphant when the Chinese suddenly entered the war on the side of the North.
Most of the 21 Americans who eventually went to China were captured during the first days of the Chinese attack, meaning they spent about three years as prisoners before making their fateful decisions.
According to U.S. military records, the POWs endured relentless communist indoctrination, including mandatory lectures on the evils of capitalism.
The Americans didn't react well to six-hour sessions in freezing temperatures, so the Chinese switched to smaller, "voluntary" study groups. GIs displaying "progressive" thinking might be rewarded with a scrap of pork in their gruel, or perhaps with a job delivering camp mail.
Even today, the names of Marx, Engels and Lenin trip disconcertingly off the tongue for Wilson, one of the five American defectors who never went beyond the eighth grade. He still remembers, though no longer believes.
Morris Wills, another of the 21 and the son of an upstate New York farmer, explained his sympathy for socialist ideals in his autobiography: "Before I was a prisoner, I thought China was a terrible tyranny. But what I got from them in camp was completely different. Everything was nice, sort of orderly planned way for everyone to live together. So by December 1952 or January 1953, I felt that if I got the chance someday, I would like to go to China."
Wills was one of the first prisoners the Chinese talked to about refusing to go home.
Thousands of Chinese and North Korean prisoners of war didn't want to go home either, and American peace negotiators insisted they shouldn't be forced to.
The matter became a double-edged sword when 23 of the 4,300 Americans who survived the POW camps refused to return home. Other allied soldiers — one Briton, a few Belgians and about 350 South Koreans — also chose communism.
"They told me that if I wanted, I could go to China, and I said, 'Hey, that sounds cool,'" recalled Hawkins.
In the winter of 1953, as a delicate cease-fire held, Wills, Wilson, Hawkins and the others were trucked to a compound near Panmunjom, where peace talks were under way. The American POWs arrived, fists raised, singing "The Internationale," a communist anthem.
Hawkins remembers American soldiers shouting back the words to "God Bless America."
"We were in trouble already," he said recently. "No doubt about it."
The American POWS were given 90 days to change their minds about defecting. Two, Edward Dickenson and Claude Batchelor, crossed to the U.S. side.
Subsequently, both were court-martialed, Dickenson on charges of communicating with the enemy and misconduct as a prisoner of war and Batchelor on charges of collaborating with enemy. Dickenson was sentenced to 10 years and Batchelor to life, later reduced to 20 years. Both were released after serving 3½ years.
At Panmunjom, as the 90-day deadline neared, American forces blared a message to the remaining 21: "We believe that there are some of you who desire repatriation."
Defector Sgt. Richard Corden, then 25, of Rhode Island, stomped around the compound with part of his blue prison uniform thrown over his shoulder like a cape.
"Do any Americans want to go home?" he shouted.
"No!" the others called in chorus.
"Each and every one of these ingrates should receive a dishonorable discharge, and thereby be forever barred from any consideration for war veterans' benefits."
The year is 1954; the speaker U.S. Rep. William C. Cole, a Missouri Republican.
By the mid-'50s, the American public was alarmed by stories of communist sympathizers working within the U.S. government. U.S. Sen. Joseph McCarthy led a series of investigations, fueled by accusation and rumor.
Other members of Congress held hearings about why some American soldiers had apparently cracked.
"We couldn't wrap our minds around the notion that American citizens would choose to stay in Korea and so we came up with a mystical concept that imbued a power to the people holding them," said James Richardson, a social psychologist at the University of Nevada.
Brainwashing, insisted Portia Howe, the mother of another of the men. Her son must have been brainwashed.
Today, Marilyn Walker says much the same of John Walker Lindh.
"If he got involved in the Taliban, he must have been brainwashed," Walker said in an interview earlier this year. "He was isolated. He didn't know a soul in Pakistan. When you're young and impressionable, it's easy to be led by charismatic people."
Young and impressionable. The 21 Americans who disappeared into China nearly five decades ago were certainly that.
"Brainwashing is not done with electrodes stuck to your head; you are not turned into a robot obeying the orders of a Chinese master," Wills wrote in his book. "What we call 'brainwashing' is a long, horrible process by which a man slowly, step by step, idea by idea, becomes totally convinced, as I was, that the Chinese communists have unlocked the secret to man's happiness."
About 4 a.m. on Feb. 24, 1954, a train carrying the 21 American defectors rumbled across the Yalu into China.
"It was misty and cold — very dark, very gray, very cold," Wills wrote.
The first Sunday the group ventured out in Taiyuan, a crowd trailed them.
Soon, Chinese instructors began lectures on socialism, then moved on to "criticism" sessions in which each man told his faults as others verbally whipped him.
"Your first reaction is to feel very, very small. You crawl," Wills recalled. "This continuous barrage of accusations makes you feel the whole thing is true."
The Chinese then shipped some of the men off to the People's University to study language and politics. Arlie Pate was sent to a paper mill where, he would later say, he spent his days watching others work and his nights dancing.
William Cowart, Lewis Griggs and Otho Bell "were kind of the dummy bunch," Bell later recalled for a historian. "They sent us to a collective farm, 'cuz we wasn't educated enough to learn Chinese. We were way out in the country — the people there thought we was from outer space."
The novelty wore off quickly for some. Within two years, the men began to trickle home, some with help from the Red Cross, others through friendly embassies.
The first three to return — Cowart, Griggs and Bell — were arrested as they set foot in the United States in 1955. Three months later a federal judge turned them loose, saying the military courts no longer had jurisdiction because the men had been dishonorably discharged.
Wilson returned in 1956 and married his boot-camp sweetheart, who by then had two boys Wilson adopted. The family traveled to New Mexico and California, the dishonorable discharge haunting Wilson with each job application.
Later he returned home to Urania, La., to work at the mill like his father. He used the job as a stepping stone to others around the South, operating heavy equipment in shipyards.
Hawkins — by many accounts the most dashing of the bunch — came home in 1957. His friends and family know he was a prisoner of war in Korea. They know he's fluent in Chinese. But they don't know the Army labeled him a "squealer," and that Mike Wallace once asked him on national television whether he was a spy.
"No one asks questions, and I don't offer details," Hawkins said.
He petitioned the Army to reverse his dishonorable discharge, and succeeded in having it upgraded to less than honorable.
"When I came back, I knew I had to get on with my life. I didn't want to dig ditches, so I got educated, I made a life for myself, I moved on," he said.
James Veneris, the dark-haired son of Greek parents, visited the United States in 1976, but found himself a misfit and returned to China. He and Howard Adams, a former corporal from Corsicana, Texas, are reportedly the only two Korean War defectors remaining in China.
Back in the United States, the remaining survivors have done the best they could.
Rush, a retired machinist, settled in the Midwest with the Chinese wife he brought home. They live a quiet life, and he worries about friends and neighbors somehow learning of his past.
Wilson retired to a small, well-kept brick house and a yard crazy with flowers. Plastic pink flamingoes stand watch. In the middle of it all flies an American flag atop an 18-foot pole.
"This is the greatest country in the world," he said, "and maybe when I was 17 years old I didn't know it, but I do now."
Time will tell if Lindh ever feels the same.
AP Investigative Researcher Randy Herschaft contributed to this report.